23 April 2020

The Mystery of the Missing Authors

What do the following researchers have in common?

Muller G. Hito, Department of Psychology and Sports Science, Justus-Liebig University, Germany
Okito Nakamura, Global Research Department, Ritsumeikan University, Japan
Mitsu Nakamura, The Graduated [sic] University of Advanced Studies, Japan
John Okutemo, Usman University, Sokoto, Nigeria
Eryn Rekgai, Department of Psychology and Sports Science, Justus-Liebig University, Germany
Mbraga Theophile, Kinshasa University, Republic of Congo
Bern S. Schmidt, Department of Fundamental Neuroscience, University of Lausanne, Switzerland

Despite their varied national origins, it seems that the answer is "quite a bit":

1. They seem to collaborate with each other, in various combinations, on short articles with limited empirical content, typically published with less than a week from submission to acceptance. (Some examples: 1 2 3 4 5) The majority of these articles date from 2017, although there are some from 2018 and 2019 as well.

2. Apart from each other, these people have published with almost nobody else, except that:

(a) Four of them have published with Faustin Armel Etindele Sosso (whom I will refer to from now on as FAES), the lead author of the article that I discussed in this post. (Examples: 6 7 8) In one case, FAES is the corresponding author although he is not listed as an actual author of the article. I don't think I have ever seen that before in scholarly publishing.

(b) Two of them have published with an author named Sana Raouafi --- see the specific paragraph on this person towards the end of this post.

3. Whether FAES is a co-author or not, these researchers have a remarkable taste for citing his published work, which typically accounts for between 50% and 100% of the References section of any of their articles.

4. When one of these researchers, rather than FAES, is the corresponding author of an article, they always use a Yahoo or Gmail address. So far I have identified "s.bern@yahoo.com", "mullerhito@yahoo.com", "mitsunaka216@gmail.com", and "okitonaka216@gmail.com". None of these researchers seems to use an institutional e-mail address for correspondence. Of course, this is not entirely illegitimate (for example, if one anticipates moving to another institution in the near future), but it seems quite unusual for none of them to have used their faculty address.

[[ Update 2020-04-27 17:22 UTC: I have identified that "Erin Regai", who I think is the same person as "Eryn Rekgai" but with slightly different spelling, has the e-mail address "eregai216@gmail.com". That makes three people with Gmail addresses ending in 216. It would be interesting to discover whether anybody involved in these authors' publication projects has a birthday on 21/6 (21 June) or 2/16 (February 16). ]]

5. None of these people seems to have an entry in the online staff directory of their respective institutions. (The links under their names at the start of this post all go to their respective ResearchGate profiles, or if they don't have one, RG's collection of their "scientific contributions".) Of course, one can never prove a negative, and some people just prefer a quiet life. So as part of this blog post I am issuing a public appeal: If you know (or, even better, if you are) any of these people, please get in touch with me.

I don't have time to go into all of these individuals in detail, but here are some highlights of what I found in a couple of cases. (For the two authors named Nakamura, I am awaiting a response to inquiries that I sent to their respective institutions; I hope that readers will forgive me for publishing this post before waiting for a reply to those inquiries, given the current working situation at many universities around the world.)

[[ Update 2020-04-24 21:24 UTC: Ms. Mariko Kajii of the Office of Global Planning and Partnerships at The Ritsumeikan Trust has confirmed to me that nobody named "Okito Nakamura" is known to that institution. ]]

[[ Update 2020-04-24 23:37 UTC: Mitsu Nakamura's ResearchGate page claims that Okito Naakmura is a member of Mitsu's lab at "The graduated [sic] University of Advanced studies". It seems strange that someone would be affiliated with one university (even if that university denied any knowledge of them, cf. my previous update) while working in a lab at another. Meanwhile, Mitsu Nakamura's name does not appear in Japan's national database of researchers. ]]

Muller G. Hito

For this researcher --- who does not seem to be quite sure how their own name is structured(*), as they sometimes appear at the top of an article as "Hito G. Muller" --- we have quite extensive contact information, for example in this article (which cites 18 references, 12 of them authored by FAES).

I looked up that phone number and found that it does indeed belong to someone in the Department of Psychology and Sports Science at Justus-Liebig University, namely Prof. Dr. Hermann Müller. For a moment I thought that maybe Prof. Dr. Müller likes to call himself "Hito", and maybe he got his first and last names mixed up when correcting the proofs of his article. But as my colleague Malte Elson points out, no German person named "Müller" would ever allow their name to be spelled "Muller" without the umlaut. (In situations where the umlaut is not available, for example in an e-mail address, it is compensated for by adding an e to the vowel, e.g., in this case, "Mueller".)

In any case, Malte contacted Prof. Dr. Müller, who assured him that he is not "Hito D. Muller" or "Muller D. Hito". Nor has Dr. Müller ever heard of anyone with that name, or anyone with a name like "Eryn Rekgai", in the department where he works.

Bern S. Schmidt

Bern Schmidt is another author who likes to permute the components of their name. They have published articles as "Bern S. Schmidt", "Bern Schmidt S.", "Bern, SS", and perhaps other combinations. Their bio on their author page on the web site of Insight Medical Publishing, which publishes a number of the journals that contain the articles that are linked to throughout this post, says:
Dr Bern S. Schmidt is a neuroscientist and clinical tenure track [sic] of the CHUV, working in the area of fundamental neuroscience and psychobiological factors influencing appearance of central nervous disorders and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer and Dementia. He holds a medical degree at the University of Victoria, follow by a residency program at The Shiga University of Medicine and a postdoctoral internship at the Waseda University.
I assume that "CHUV" here refers to "Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois", the teaching hospital of the University of Lausanne where Dr. Schmidt claims to be affiliated in the Department of Fundamental Neuroscience. But a search of the university's web site did not find any researcher with this name. I asked somebody who has access to a directory of all past and present staff members of the University of Lausanne if they could find anyone with a name that corresponds even partially to this name, and they reported that they found nothing. Meanwhile, The University of Victoria has no medical degree programme, and their neuroscience programme has no trace of anyone with this name.

[[ Update 2020-04-27 17:24 UTC: A representative of the University of Lausanne has confirmed to me that they can find no trace of anybody named "Bern Schmidt" at their institution. ]]

(A minor detail, but one that underscores how big a rabbit hole this story is: Dr. Schmidt seems to have an unusual telephone number. This article lists it as "516-851-8564", which looks more like a North American number than a Swiss one. Indeed, it is identical to the number given in this apparently unrelated article in the same journal for the corresponding author Hong Li of the Department of Neuroscience at Yale University School of Medicine. Dr. Hong Li's doubtless vital --- after all, she is at Yale --- contribution to neuroscience research was accepted within 6 days of being submitted, presumably having been pronounced flawless by the prominent scholars who performed the rigorous peer review process for the prestigious Journal of Translational Neurosciences. It is, however, slightly disappointing that typesetting standard at this paragon of scientific publishing do not extend to removing one author's phone number when typesetting the next one to be published on the same day. If anyone knows where Dr. Bern Schmidt is, perhaps they could mention this to them, so that this important detail can be corrected. We wouldn't want Dr. Hong Li's valuable Yale neuroscientist time to be wasted answering calls intended for Dr. Schmidt.

These authors' recent dataset

The only activity that I have been able to identify from any of these authors in the last few months is the publication of this dataset, which was uploaded to Mendeley on March 22, 2020. As well as FAES, the authors are listed as HG Muller, E. Regai [sic], and O. Nakamura. From the "Related links" on that page, it appears that this dataset is a subset (total N=750) of the 10,566 cases that make up the sample described in the Etindele Sosso et al. article in Nature Scientific Reports that was the subject of my previous blog post.

However, a few things about these data are not entirely consistent with that article. For example, while the per-country means for the variables "Age", "Mean Hours of Gaming/week", and "Mean months of gaming/gamer" correspond to the published numbers in Table 2 of the article in five out of six cases (for "Mean months of gaming/gamer" in the sample from Gabon the mean is 15.77, whereas in the article the integer-rounded value reported was 15), all of the standard deviations in the dataset are considerably higher than those that were published, by factors ranging from 1.3 to 5.1.

Furthermore, there are some patterns in the distribution of scores in the four outcome variables (ISI, EDS, HADS-A subscale, and HADS-D subscale) that are difficult to explain as being the results of natural processes. For all four of these measures in the N=301 sample from Tunisia, and three of them (excluding the EDS) in the N=449 sample from Gabon, between 77% and 92% of the individual participants' total scores on each of these the subscales are even numbers. For the EDS in the sample from Gabon, 78% of the scores are odd numbers. In the Gabon sample, it is also noticeable that the ISI score for every participant is exactly 2 higher than their HADS-A score and exactly 3 higher than their EDS score; the HADS-A score is also 2 higher than the HADS-D for 404 out of 449 participants.

It is not clear to me why Hito G. Muller, Eryn Re[k]gai, and Okito Nakamura might be involved with the publication of this dataset, when their names were not listed as authors of the published article. But perhaps they have very high ethical standards and did not feel that their contribution to the curation of the data, whatever that might have been, merited a claim of authorship in the 11th most highly cited scientific journal in the world.

The other author who does seem to exist

There is one co-author on a few of the articles mentioned above who does actually appear to exist. This is Sana Raouafi, who reports an affiliation with the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Polytechnique Montréal. The records office of that institution informed me that she was awarded her PhD on January 27, 2020. I have no other contact information for her, nor do I know whether she genuinely took part in the authorship of these strange articles, or what her relationship with FAES (or, if they exist, any of the other co-authors) might be.

Supporting file

There is one supporting file for this post here:
-           Muller-dataset-with-pivots.xls: An Excel file containing my analyses of the Muller et al. dataset, mentioned above in the section "These authors' recent dataset". The basic worksheets from the published dataset have been enhanced with two sheets of pivot tables, illustrating the issues with the outcome measures that I described.


Thanks to Elisabeth Bik, Malte Elson, Danny Garside, Steve Lindsay, Stuart Ritchie, and Yannick Rochat for their help in attempting to track down these elusive researchers. Perhaps others will have more luck than us.

(*) I am aware that different customs exist in different countries regarding the order in which "given" and "family" names are written. For example, in several East Asian countries, but also in Hungary, it is common to write the family name first. Interestingly, there is often some ambiguity about this among speakers of French. But as far as I know, German speakers, like English speakers, always use put their given name first and their family name last, unless there is a requirement to invert this order for alphabetisation purposes. And of course, in some parts of the world, the whole idea of "family names" is much more complicated than in Western countries. It's a fascinating subject that, alas, I do not have time to explore here.


  1. Thank you Dr. Brown (and helpers) for your thoroughness. I started off on this search too, but quit after finding little on the Nakamuras. Regret (aka Cheshire)

  2. Great work, reminds me to my correspondence in mid 2015 with several universities in Saudi-Arabia about their involvement in a fraudulent study on the Basra Reed-warbler. The details are listed in a report at https://osf.io/j69ue/ They can be summarized as:
    (1): no university in Saudi Arabia had endorsed this study;
    (2): the affiliation of the middle author ('University of King Abd Al-Aziz, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia') does not exist and had never existed.

    The fraudulent Basra Reed-warbler study was published in mid 2013. It is stated in a letter to the editor of 5 September 2013 (now available at https://osf.io/6m3cq/ ): "Also I am acutely aware that neither you, nor the reviewers (and possibly the co-authors) would have been aware of the evidence I am presenting here." It took one and a half year to get published this letter to the editor, see https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09397140.2015.1023424

    This comment counts lots of co-authors. See https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/11/martin-woodcock-obituary for an obituary of one of them, see https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ibi.12588 for an obituary of another one of the co-authors of this comment.

  3. Interesting work. I see that Sana Raouafi was described by Sosso as 'my supervisor' in his recent reply on Pubpeer here (relating to a 2016 paper): https://pubpeer.com/publications/E052018082F1C1D1A89AE21F5F63F9#2

    1. Good catch! It seems unusual to have a "supervisor" who is 3 or 4 years short of her own PhD, and for her supervisee to refer to her as "Doctor".

    2. Indeed. But the whole thing is so surreal that I am no longer surprised by any aspect of it! It is just possible that as a graduate student, Raouafi 'supervised' a masters or undergrad project of Sosso's. And, Raouafi was 'Dr' by the time Sosso commented on Pubpeer.

      Incidentally, are you following up with any of the co-authors on the 2020 paper? As far as I can see, only the 2nd author refers to that publication on their own institutional site. I wondered if they are all aware of the paper. Anyway no need to reply if this is sensitive information.

  4. Hmm... from FAES' master's thesis acknowledgements: "Enfin, merci à ma famille [names] et Sana." Perhaps I'm overinterpreting this...

    1. And a quick search suggests that Sana Raouafi is a bone fide researcher but in a completely different area of study. I cannot see how she could supervise this dissertation.

  5. This is all very bizarre. Obviously someone must be benefiting from all of this in some way, but it's hard to understand who and how.

  6. I am not sure this guy is behind this names. I have been 4 years ago in trouble with the same publisher who assigned me an authorship and published commentary without send me any author proof. If he published one time with them, these predatory journals May created citations of his paper to convince him to still publish with them.Often if you look behind the name of all these journals, It is the same company which hold them. I believe in that because there is no link between all studies citing his work.

  7. Interesting topic Nick. It is very odd, but I can’t find any info on Fiona Reynolds, co-author of Robert Reeve, Brian Butterworth and Jacob Paul. Nothing on LinkedIn; https://www.linkedin.com/in/fiona-reynolds-6b757116a/?originalSubdomain=au
    No concrete info on Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Fiona_Reynolds2
    only a very peculiar photo. No information on her educational qualifications.
    Fiona Reynolds is not listed in the staff directory of the University of Melbourne and not under alumni, although, based upon the publications she has been affiliated many years with this university.
    All 6 articles have been published with Bob Reeve, university of Melbourne.
    Last article she published was in 2018 with Jacob Paul (Utrecht University).
    Anybody with any information, please contact me.