Here’s a novel way to boost your resume: photoshop your own name onto a paper written by another research group. Then pin it to your Twitter profile and claim it as your own paper.
A fake Nature Communications paper
Twitter user Abolfazl Madani, who works in Neuroscience / Quantum Machine Learning, pinned a tweet [archived] in which he shared his “last publication in #Nature” (sic). The link in the July 2020 tweet leads to a Nature Communications paper, not on the journal’s website, but on a WordPress page [archived].
The front page lists two (or three?) authors, Mehrnaz Tayebi and Abolfazl Madani, who both claim to be the “Chair of Experimental Bioinformatics,”. Always tricky to have two Chairs, of course, but maybe they just work together really well. There are no further affiliations listed.
According to his LinkedIn page [archived], Madani has held five or six jobs in the last year, but has no current affiliation with a research institution. His most recent employment appears to be with MyDigipay, a financial services company in Tehran.
Further inspection of the Nature Communications paper reveals that something is amiss. The font used for the title isn’t the expected one, the DOI listed on the PDF does not exist, and the Acknowledgements and Author Contributions sections list a very different lineup of authors, not one of whom has the initials MT or AM.
The original paper
As it turns out, the “Important Intervention…” paper by Tayebi and Madani is fake. It is based on a real Nature Communications paper called “Exploring the SARS-CoV-2 virus-host-drug interactome for drug repurposing“, written by Sepideh Sadegh et al. from the group of Jan Baumbach at the Technical University of Munich, München, Germany. You can download the CoVex platform described in the paper here.
The paper tweeted by Madani is a copy of the Sadegh publication, but with the original title and authors removed from the first page, and a new title and different authors photoshopped in. The DOI link on the bottom of each page was also altered throughout the paper. The rest of the paper’s text and figures appear to be unaltered.
Here is a comparison between the original paper (left) and the photoshopped paper (right).
Legal threats by the original author
The corresponding author of the original paper, Jan Baumbach, used strong words on Twitter, once he found out that his paper had been altered to delete its authors’ names. He asked Madani to remove it within 24 hours and said he will also contact his legal office to prosecute.
The website features a curious mixture of fake conferences and random posts, with no apparent goal or list of contributors. Among the unexpected items promoted on the website is that you can book Ann Arvin, a Stanford professor but presumably unrelated to the website, as a speaker [archived].
Although the site displays the Nature logo and uses “Nature: A Nature Research Journal” as its title, it does not appear to be genuinely affiliated with Nature in any way. According to a WhoIs record its IP is at the Tebyan-e-noor Cultural-artistic Institute in Tehran, and it was created in July 2020, just around the time that Madani tweeted about “his” new paper.
Why would anyone photoshop their own name on an existing paper? The phony publication is obviously not part of the real scientific literature, so it’s not going to be found or read by many people. Maybe the author needed a little self-confidence boost, or perhaps he’ll use it to pad out his resume when looking for a new job.
But with Science Twitter now talking about this, I assume the paper will be taken down quickly.