Back in March, we reported that the journal Computational and Theoretical Chemistry (CTC) had retracted a pair of 2006 papers by a group of Iranian researchers. As the notices stated, the scientists had recalled their articles after detecting “serious errors” with the work post-publication.
At the time, the authors still had three other articles in good standing with CTC. No longer.
CTC has retracted the remaining three papers by the group, for the same “serious errors.” The articles appeared between 2007 and 2009, and were titled:
- Density-functional theory studies on electrode potentials and electronic structure of (E)-3-(4,5-dihydroxy-2-tosylphenyl) acrylic acid as a new caffeic acid derivative: Experimental and theoretical;
- Molecular parameterization and determination of the electrode potentials of anticoagulant derivatives: Electrochemical and quantum chemical study; and
- Determination of the theoretical and experimental electrochemical standard potentials of (o)-diphenols.
The first two papers have not been cited by other work, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The third has been cited five times.
The papers (which were published when the journal was titled Journal of Molecular Structure: THEOCHEM) included a core group of four authors, Siavash Riahi, Abdolmajid Bayandori Moghaddam, Parviz Norouzi and Mohammad Reza Ganjali. The researchers work variously at the University of Tehran and Tehran University of Medical Sciences.
When we spoke with CTC editor Ajit Thakkar earlier this year, he told us that the authors hadn’t informed him whether the errors were simply mistakes or something worse. He had the same to say when we spoke with him about the latest retractions.
There is nothing new.
Thakkar reiterated his opinion that the issues with the articles likely involved incompetence, not fraud, although he acknowledged again that it’s often hard to tell the difference.
Thakkar said the first author, Riahi, has been the one communicating with his journal. We have tried to contact him by email but so far have not received a reply.
Now, we certainly understand that editors and publishers cannot force authors to be forthcoming about the reasons for a retraction. But in this case, we think readers of CTC and the other journals in the specialty deserve to know more about what went wrong here. We think it’s fair to say that after five retractions involving serious errors, the entire body of work of all of these authors should be subject to scrutiny.
Should that devolve to readers and researchers? Perhaps, but that doesn’t seem like a very efficient — or effective — solution to the problem. And it doesn’t suggest that the journal is pushing for transparency as much as they’d like readers to think they are.
We have a solution. Journals, we’ve noted with disappointment, often seem content to take their lead from institutions when it comes to misconduct investigations. But they’re very powerful, and the threat of not being able to publish in them is a real one. The clinical trials registry, for example, is accomplishing change in a field long dogged by a lack of transparency.
So why can’t journals require, as a condition of submission, that authors notify editors of any investigations into their work, and give a full accounting of those investigations? Ivan suggested that last month at the Council of Science Editors meeting in Baltimore.
Journals, the ball is in your court.
Hat tip: Marco van de Weert