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Iranian peer-review incident condemned

16 Mar 2018
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Under scrutiny: the Physics Society of Iran has looked into a case of faked peer review (Courtesy: iStock/erhui1979)

The Physics Society of Iran (PSI) has voiced concern over a recent case of faked peer review by an Iranian researcher. In January, the research integrity blog Retraction Watch reported that academic publisher Elsevier had begun retracting 24 papers with the same corresponding author, Ahmad Salar Elahi, who is a physicist based at the Plasma Physics Research Center at Islamic Azad University (IAU) in Tehran. Writing in a letter to Ivan Oransky, a co-founder of Retraction Watch, the PSI president Mohammad Reza Ejtehadi condemned Elahi’s behaviour as “unethical”.

Rigged, faked or compromised peer review usually happens when authors submit a fake e-mail address for peer reviewers they suggest when submitting their work to a journal. Feedback on manuscripts is then generally favourable and provide little criticism, persuading journal editors to accept and publish the work in question.

Our image in the international scientific community is important for us

Mohammad Reza Ejtehadi

Mahmood Ghoranneviss, dean of the Plasma Physics Research Center at IAU, confirmed to Physics World that Elahi had been removed from all duties at the centre and referred to the institution’s disciplinary committee. “The report of the frauds by Ahmad Salar Elahi caused a very strong negative reaction among Iran’s scientific communities,” notes Ghoranneviss. “The news was received with consternation and triggered an angry backlash among Iranians scholars and scientists.”

Correcting distortions

In his letter to Retraction Watch, Ejtehadi wrote that the PSI “strongly condemns” such misconduct, believing that the majority of the Iranian physics community is free from such digressions. “Our image in the international scientific community is important for us and we are careful to correct any distortion of this image caused by misbehaviour of a few faculty members,” he told Physics World.

Journal papers by scholars in Iran have increased 20-fold since 1979 and this is not the first case of high-profile research misconduct in the country. In 2016, BioMed Central and Springer retracted 58 papers by 282 scientists in Iran after an investigation found “evidence of plagiarism, peer review and authorship manipulation, suggestive of attempts to subvert the peer review and publication system to inappropriately obtain or allocate authorship”. However, Behzad Ataie-Ashtiani, a civil engineer at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran who has written about academic misconduct in Iran, says the boost in the country’s research output is mostly due to increased investment in research and not fraud.

Elahi did not reply to a request for comment from Physics World.

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