Researcher photoshops his name onto a Nature Communications paper

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.

Nature-Researcher.com

The website on which the fake Nature Communications paper was posted, Nature-Researcher.com [archived] lists the paper as a “Scientific Reports” paper (oops! a different journal).

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?

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.

2 thoughts on “Researcher photoshops his name onto a Nature Communications paper”

  1. A more or less comparable case is a mysterious “difficult author”, the subject of a recent peer-reviewed article by Pippa Smart in the journal European Science Editing, see https://ese.arphahub.com/article/52201/

    Pippa Smart https://www.pspconsulting.org/home/about-pippa-smart/ reflects in her article about “a recent experience with an author” in “the recent months”.

    I refer in my preprint at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344770291 about my recent experiences with Pippa Smart. I state in this preprint: “Extensive correspondence between October 2019 and March 2020 about an earlier version of this manuscript with Pippa Smart, EiC of Learned Publishing, ended on 4 March 2020 with a 995 times repeated decline to communicate about the existence of the raw research data. It needs to be underlined that no response on queries for access to the raw research data, even if they are repeated 995 times, does not automatically imply that it has been proven that the data do not exist.”

    The article by Pippa Smart was published on 29 April 2020. I detected it in the beginning of July. I have soon afterwards contacted Pippa Smart with some questions. There is until now no response. I have submitted on 2 August a response to ESE (European Science Editing). A desk-rejection was received on 22 August. The journal stated in this rejection letter: “we cannot independently verify that you were the subject of her article, so we have no way of evaluating these claims.”

    I have sent on 24 August an e-mail to the editorial office of ESE with a request for “an anonymous version of the full set of the raw research data to substantiate the claim that I was not the topic of Smart (2020)”. There is until now no response, also not on a reminder.

    Pippa Smart states in her article that she had contact about this issue with (1) “two reviewers”, (2) “another member of our editorial team / the North American Editor”, (3) “the entire editorial board”, (4) “our publisher (Wiley)”, and (5) “our parent organisation (the Association of Learned and Professional Publishers, ALPSP)”.

    The formal response of ESE implies towards my opinion that ESE is argueing that there is no possibility that my correspondence with Pippa Smart about an earlier version of my preprint can be compared with all the correspondence with all these individuals and organisations.

    I fail to understand how this is possible and I am therefore looking forwards for some responses.

    Like

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