Islamabad - The Scientist magazine rated top 10 retractions of 2014 by different publishers. While sixteen retractions of a Pakistani professor were among last year’s most memorable retractions for submitting fake peer reviews for the acceptance of his papers.

In the last few weeks of the previous year, three Elsevier journals retracted 16 research papers of a COMSATS professor after it became clear that the author coordinated fake peer reviews by submitting false contact information for his suggested reviewers.

The author, Khalid Zaman, an economist at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology (CIIT), Abbottabad, was formally the corresponding author of 14 papers and co-author of the other two. The papers appeared in three Elsevier journals—Economic Modelling, Renewable Energy, and Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

Elsevier, an international company publishes nearly 2,200 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and over 25,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works.

According to Retraction Watch - a blogging site— an editor of the journal first became suspicious after noticing that Zaman’s suggested reviewers, all with non-institutional addresses, were unusually kind to the economist’s work. “Flags were first raised in August, at which point the managing editor went to town digging through all of Zaman’s other publications looking for suspicious reviews coming from non-institutional addresses provided by the author,” it added.

It further explains that the Editor was misled into accepting the articles based upon the positive advice of at least one faked reviewer report. The report was submitted from a fictitious email account which was provided to the Editor by Khalid Zaman during the submission of the articles.

According to Elsevier’s Vice President of Global Corporate Relations, Tom Reller, Dr Zaman admitted sole responsibility and stated that his co-authors were not aware of his actions (including the two papers where he is not the corresponding author). But “we have no evidence of the other authors’ involvement in manipulating the peer-review process,” said Reller.

This manipulation of the peer review process represented a clear violation of the fundamentals of peer review, publishing policies, and publishing ethics standards so the publisher retracted all 16 papers, including the two papers which he had co-authored.

“It was unfortunate for him that he was caught!  Otherwise intellectual dishonesty is prevailed here at every level,” said Dr Isa Daudpota, a physicist and independent researcher based in Islamabad. He has been associated with different institutions of higher learning.

He blamed the Higher Education Commission of (HEC) for its short sighted research policies coupled with turning a blind eye to such misdemeanours. “It seems Pakistanis have excelled in academic cheating!  

Sadly much of this springs from the greed generated by dim-witted, short-sighted publications policy and incentives of the HEC.  There is a need for their complete overhaul,” he added.  “Earlier, CIIT also failed to detect publications fraud of its former star Maths student, Syed Touseef Mohyud-Din, whose PhD supervisor and joint author, Dr Aslam Noor, is still on its faculty,” Daudpota added.

Currently associated with Hitech University Taxila, Dr Syed Tauseef Mohyud Din claims to have published over 300 research publications and is editor-in-chief/ editor of more than 15 international journals.  He has received a presidential medal for his prolific output.

But Daudpota calls him, somewhat sarcastically, Pakistani Euler, as he has been producing a journal article almost every week. This is like Leonhard Euler, the legendary Swiss mathematician, whose work continues to be published posthumously.

According to our information, the publisher informed CIIT about the retractions and after the issue was discussed on various blogs, Dr Zaman left the university.  He had applied for a job at the Beaconhouse University, which rejected him after knowing about the retractions.

But CIIT Rector Dr S.M. Junaid Zaidi insisted, “the case is being probed and Dr Zaman has been suspended. But final action will be taken in the light of the inquiry. We have been investigating each and every publication of the teaching faculty. The CIIT has zero tolerant policy in such cases and we will not spare anyone”.  

“The HEC being a regulatory body should officially write to all the institutions about such scams so that they are wary when hiring teaching faculty. It should also issue a warning on its website,” said Daudpota.    

Daudpota criticised reputable international journals such as Elsevier for asking authors to suggest names of referees. “Choosing appropriate referees is the job of journals’ editors and should be done without the knowledge of the authors. This standard practice that Elsevier lacked allowed Khalid Zaman to set up fake email accounts for the imaginary referees whom he recommended to the journals. Thereafter, he acted as the referee for his own papers!” “HEC’s sole emphasis should be to encourage high quality publications - not quantity, as has been the trend since Dr Atta-ur Rahman’s tenure as Chairman HEC,” asserts Daudpota.