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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Applied Mathematics Letters posts apology for retracting Intelligent Design-friendly paper

with 7 comments

Applied Mathematics Letters, which agreed to apologize to Intelligent Design-friendly Texas professor Granville Sewell and have its publisher, Elsevier, pay $10,000 in legal fees, has posted the text of its apology (Of note: Elsevier has the apology behind a paywall. So if 318 people fork over the $31.50 fee, they’ll have their $10,000 back.):

An article, ‘‘A Second Look at the Second Law,’’ by Dr. Granville Sewell, Professor of Mathematics at University of Texas at El Paso, was submitted on October 21, 2010 to the Journal of Applied Mathematics Letters. Dr. Sewell’s article was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication on January 19, 2011.

On March 2, 2011, the Editor-in-Chief of Applied Mathematics Letters, Dr. Ervin Rodin, decided to withdraw the article without consultation with the author, not because of any errors or technical problems found by the reviewers or editors, but because the Editor-in-Chief subsequently concluded that the content was more philosophical than mathematical and, as such, not appropriate for a technical mathematics journal such as Applied Mathematics Letters.

The Journal of Applied Mathematics Letters and its Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Rodin, provide their sincere and heartfelt apologies to Dr. Sewell for any inconvenience or embarrassment that may have been caused by their unilateral withdrawal of his article, and wish Dr. Sewell the best in the future and welcome Dr. Sewell’s submission of future articles for possible publication.

Dr. Sewell’s article as accepted by Applied Mathematics Letters can be viewed at: http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/sewell/AML_3497.pdf.

This editor’s note adds a remarkable twist to an already remarkable story. The text of the apology — no doubt heavily lawyered by both sides — allows the journal to duck questions about a) how Rodin failed to notice that the paper was “more philosophical than mathematical” when it was first submitted, and b) how its peer-review process failed to note the issues others have raised.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

June 13, 2011 at 12:36 pm

7 Responses

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  1. It remains unclear why Elsevier actually agreed to issue the apology. Just because Dr. Sewell felt hurt?

    IMHO the paper must not have been published in the first place because it is violating the Originality and Plagiarism guidelines outlined in Elsevier’s publishing ethics: Dr. Sewell copied verbatim from at least two of his earlier of publications. In total about 20 to 25% of the “Applied Mathematics Letters” text is taken from Dr. Sewell’s American Spectator article “Evolution’s Thermodynamic Failure” without appropriate citation. According to Elsevier’s Originality and Plagiarism guidelines copying or paraphrasing substantial parts of another’s paper is plagiarism that

    “in all its forms constitutes unethical publishing behavior and is unacceptable”

    and it shouldn’t matter if the plagiarized author is Dr. Sewell himself.

    In addition, Elsevier’s guidelines state that authors

    “should not in general publish manuscripts describing essentially the same research in more than one journal or primary publication”.

    Dr. Sewell has indeed published the same idea at least three times before:
    2000 Granville Sewell, A mathematician’s view of evolution, The Mathematical Intelligencer.
    .
    2001, Granville Sewell, Can ANYTHING happen in an open system?, The Mathematical Intelligencer.
    .
    2005, Granville Sewell, Evolution’s thermodynamic failure, The American Spectator
    .
    According to Elsevier’s guidelines publication of some kinds of articles reflecting the same data and interpretation in more than one journal may sometimes be justifiable. However, it seems questionable if Dr. Sewell informed Applied Mathematics Letters editorial board accordingly and he surely missed to cite his American Spectator article which shares more than 20% identity with the Applied Mathematics article.

    Elsevier’s ommitted a legal affair on the cost of the integrity of science just to save some money. IMO, scientists should protest against Elsevier’s move.

    Martin Hafner

    June 14, 2011 at 12:07 am

    • Protest, yes. If you want to stick your finger in this crow’s pie of evolution/anti-evolution controversy. If you have better things to do than join the good fight against this self-plagiarizer (he very nearly stoops to the level of a spammer, in my humble opinion), then just read it, laugh wryly, and read on.
      Sewell’s mind is made up, that is clear. Nothing you can say will penetrate his closed mind.
      If you have an open mind, then you owe it to yourself to avoid polluting it with his verbiage.
      Sewell’s point appears to be that evolution as an explanation for the present state of affairs on earth violates the second law of thermodynamics. He’s obviously wrong, and I leave it to others better educated in logic and thermodynamics to work out the proof of that. However, HIS explanation for how things are ALSO violates more than just the second law, and I’ll leave it to you to work that out also. Try tellling him that. On second thought, don’t waste your breath.

      Conrad T Seitz MD

      June 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  2. (Of note: Elsevier has the apology behind a paywall. So if 318 people fork over the $31.50 fee, they’ll have their $10,000 back.)

    you make it as though the entire journal weren’t behind a paywall…
    every student at scores of research institutions across the US has institutional access to this w/o forking over any cash at all

    Mike S.

    June 16, 2011 at 8:02 am

  3. Time Higher Education reports on the case. Unfortunately, my comment about Sewell’s self-plagiarism I left there disappeared.

    Martin Hafner

    June 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm

  4. I wonder who the peer reviewers were and what were they thinking? Did they read the paper?

    Do we know for certain it was ever peer reviewed?

    The idea that the second law of thermodynamics contradicts evolution is not new. When I was a second year engineering student back in 1974 the prof noted that, then he went on to note the obvious rebuttal that entropy in organisms could decrease because entropy elsewhere increased.

    G Knight

    December 15, 2012 at 5:44 am

    • Yes we know for certain it was peer-reviewed. The journal even came out and said it. It was peer-reviewed, then the journal went back on its own policy because of a blogger. This is dangerous for academic freedom, no matter their beliefs.

      Stan

      November 2, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    • An early sensible and insightful account on this matter is the paper “On Self-Organizing Systems and Their Environments” by Heinz von Foerster, published in Self-Organizing Systems. M.C. Yovits and S. Cameron (eds.), Pergamon Press, London, pp. 31–50 (1960).

      Von Foester writes: “[...] if this self-organizing system is permitted to do its job of organizing itself for a little while, its entropy must have decreased during this time [...] In order to accomplish this, the entropy in the remaining part of our finite universe, i.e. the entropy in the environment must have increased [equation] otherwise the Second Law of Thermodynamics is violated.”

      Timo Honkela

      February 25, 2014 at 12:32 pm


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