Detecting Dr. Fraud

If you haven’t already heard about the Dr. Fraud incident (reminiscent of John Bohannon’s 2013 investigation of lax reviewing practices at some open-access publishers), here’s a brief synopsis:

Three academics from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, decided to investigate the process of academic journal editorial board appointment. They created a fictitious scientist, Anna O. Szust, with made-up credentials, bluffed achievements and authorships, and a dismally lacking CV that hardly listed any articles in academic journals, only chapters in books from fake publishing houses. To accompany Szust’s pitiful CV, the team created profiles on, Google+ and Twitter, and a faculty webpage (which could only be accessed through her CV) at the Institute of Philosophy at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań.

“Szust” applied for editorial positions on 360 journals, sourced equally from Journal Citation Reports (JCR), Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), and Beall’s list.

The results?

None of the journals sourced from JCR accepted; however, eight from the DOAJ, and 40 from Beall’s list did accept Dr. Fraud’s application to serve on the board for their journals. If this fact alone isn’t enough cause for concern, the authors noted that, “In many cases, we received a positive response within days of application, and often within hours. Four titles immediately appointed Szust editor-in-chief.” You can read more about the investigation in the authors’ article published in Nature.

For most publishers, the possibility of accepting a completely made-up researcher for their board seems far-fetched, however, this experiment highlights the challenge of finding and accepting the most qualified and appropriate candidate for your editorial board.

The case of Anna O. Szust serves as yet another illustration that, despite the many benefits of the internet, you can’t trust everything you see online.

To validate and supplement any details from a CV or internet profile, you should utilize a curated database such as the Web of Science. Journals in Web of Science Core Collection undergo a thorough vetting process before being  indexed, and are thereafter subject to ongoing evaluation, meaning that when you find articles in the database, you know it is legitimate research from legitimate sources.

You can also delve deeper into a candidate’s research and citation networks to determine if their subject focus is the most appropriate fit your journals. Is their research getting cited by authors publishing in your titles or your competitors? Does their work reach into other complementary topics that could allow your journal to expand and grow? These are just a few of the questions that you can explore in Web of Science.

In this age of information overload, using a curated, vetted source is key to helping you detect any Dr. Frauds and find the best people for your journal.