How & Why Are Journal Authors Faking Co-Authors on Research Papers?

How & Why Are Journal Authors Faking Co-Authors on Research Papers?
Among the many schemes that continue to plague the world of scientific research and publishing is the practice of faking co-authors on research papers. Although it may seem counterproductive to give authorship credit away when the goal of those who do so is usually prestigious publication, there are seemingly logical reasons why the benefits of faking co-authors could outweigh the risks for those researchers willing to game the scholarly publishing system. I explain here how this new form of plagiarism is achieved and why some researchers might choose to pursue such an unwise course of action.

Faking co-authors on research papers takes different forms. In some cases the names of prestigious scientists who have not contributed to the paper and may not even know about it are used along with their institutional affiliations, but fake email addresses are provided, sometimes with only minor changes from the real institutional email addresses of the scholars whose names have been borrowed. In other instances the names of co-authors are entirely fictional, but these nonexistent researchers will be affiliated by the fraudsters with prestigious institutions, and again inauthentic email addresses will be used. In all cases the email addresses belong to the perpetrators of the misconduct, who are therefore able to manage the correspondence from journal editors that otherwise might reveal the scam to honest researchers. The risk is significant, as getting caught can mean a cessation of funding, dismissal from employment, expulsion from an educational programme, and the loss of professional respect and career potential as well as retraction of the publications attained using the fraudulent information.
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Why Do Journal Author Take the Risk & Fake Co-Authors on Research Papers?
So why on earth would anyone choose such reckless behaviour? Well, the name of a well-published researcher has always offered a helpful hand when it comes to serious consideration at scholarly journals, so supervisors, advisors and principal investigators are often listed as authors on the papers of students and junior colleagues, but they usually know about and have ideally contributed to this authorship. In an intensely competitive publishing context that encourages a rapidly expanding body of international scientists to publish frequently in high-impact journals, it is perhaps little wonder that some researchers resort to the strategy of using influential names inappropriately to get a foot in the door at a prestigious journal.

However, dropping the name of a principal investigator in your own research context may not be enough when so many scientists from different countries are all vying for the same publishing space. Names important in the research conducted in one country may not even be known to the editor in another, so the affiliations of faked co-authors are often as important, if not more important, than the researchers themselves. That is why inventing names but affiliating them with known and respected universities and research centres makes sense to add credibility to a paper, and if the research reported is interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary, inventing experts with training and skills in areas that the fraudster’s own qualifications do not cover increases credibility further.

When misconduct stretches to reporting fraudulent research as well as faking co-authors on research papers, another explanation may apply. Inventing and falsifying research take much less time than conducting and analysing genuine research do, so the goal of those who fake co-author names in such cases may be to divert attention away from what might otherwise stand out as a suspiciously productive publishing path for a single author working on his or her own. Since collaboration is a common way of successfully maximising the number of a researcher’s publications without sacrificing the quality of the work, creating the appearance of collaboration keeps the red warning flag at half mast among editors and reviewers.

What can be done to prevent less than scrupulous scientists from faking co-authors on research papers? Well, individual scientists can maintain integrity in all their research and publishing activities, thereby setting an invaluable example for students and fellow researchers. As teachers, scientists and other academics should discuss research and publishing misconduct openly with their students, particularly doctoral candidates, and be explicit in defining deceptive behaviours as unacceptable and harmful to their fields of study. Journal editors can nip many schemes in the bud by enacting practical preventative measures such as contacting every author listed on a manuscript submission in order to be certain that all co-authors know about the paper and contributed to it. Finally, as the peer reviewers of manuscripts submitted for publication, scholars can apply their research expertise and critical reading skills to penetrate falsehood and bring it to the attention of editorial staff.

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