Berlin, April 1st 2011: The Federal Intelligence Service discovered a Ponzi scheme of academic citations lead by an unemployed particle physicist. A house search conducted in Berlin last week revealed material documenting the planning and administration of a profitable business of trading citations for travel reimbursement.
According to the Federal Intelligence Service, the hint came from researchers at Michigan University, Ann Arbor, who were analyzing the structure of citation networks in the academic community. In late 2010, their analysis pointed towards an exponentially growing cluster originating from a previously unconnected researcher based in Germany's capital. A member of the Ann Arbor group, who wants to remain unnamed, inquired about the biography of the young genius, named Al Bert, sparking such amount of activity. The researcher was easily able to find Dr. Bert scheduled for an unusual amount of seminars in locations all over the world, sometimes more than 4 per week. However, upon contacting the respective institutions, nobody could remember the seminars, which according to Prof. Dr. Dr. Hubert at The Advanced Institute is "Not at all unusual." The network researcher from Ann Arbor suspected Dr. Bert to be a fictitious person and notified the university whose email address Dr. Bert was still using.
It turned out Dr. Bert is not a fictitious person. Dr. Bert's graduated in 2006, but his contract at the university run out in 2008. After this, colleagues lost sight of Dr. Bert. He applied for unemployment benefits in October 2008. As the Federal Intelligence Service reported this Wednesday, he later founded an agency called 'High Impact' (the website has since been taken down) that offered to boost a paper's citation count. A user registered with an almost finished, but not yet published, paper and agreed to pay EUR 10 to Dr. Bert's agency for each citation his paper received above the author's average citation count at the time of registration. The user also agreed to cite 5 papers the agency would name. A registered user would earn EUR 10 for each recruitment of a new paper, possibly their own.
This rapidly created a growing network of researchers citing each others papers, and encouraged the authors to produce new papers, certain they would become well cited. Within only a few months, the network had spread from physics to other research fields. With each citation, Dr. Bert made an income. The algorithm he used to assign citations also ensured his own works became top cites. Yet, with many researchers suddenly having papers with several hundred citations above their previously average citation count, their fee went into some thousand dollars. On several instances Dr. Bert would suggest they invite him for a seminar at their institution and locate it in a non-existent room. He would then receive reimbursement for a fraudulent self-printed boarding pass, illegible due to an alleged malfunctioning printer.
Names of researchers subscribed to Dr. Bert's agency were not accessible at the time of writing.