Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Plant paper pulled over authorship concerns

without comments

The Journal of Phytopathology has retracted a 2010 article by a French researcher who apparently misled editors about her role in preparing the manuscript.

From the notice for the article, “Trade-off between Virulence and Aggressiveness in Plasmopara halstedii (Sunflower Downy Mildew),” by Nachaat Sakr:

The paper listed earlier has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editors, the author, and Blackwell Verlag GmbH. The retraction has been agreed because of incomplete and misleading authorship information during submission. We regret any inconvenience or harm that this error may have caused.

Not to nitpick, but we weren’t sure what that notice really was trying to say. After all, it could mean that Sakr left the names of co-authors off the manuscript. Or perhaps Sakr didn’t do any of the work but simply appropriated the words of others.

We reached Robert Seem, one of the top editors at the Journal of Phytopathology — and, as it happened, the one who edited this particular paper — who walked us through the events:

    The manuscript was accepted on 23 May 2010

·         On 22 November the Editor-in-Chief received a letter from Dr. Sakr’s former advisor stating the he was never informed about the manuscript nor had permission been sought from the host institution

·         The EiC conducted an investigation included rebuttals from Dr. Sakr and in consultation with the other editors a letter was sent to Dr. Sake on 28 March 2011 stating that the decision was made to retract the paper.  However, in this situation the author was given the opportunity to withdraw the paper rather than have it retracted.

·         The basic concerns (essential rules of good scientific practice have been violated) about the paper were:

o   Incorrect statements about the affiliation of the author were provided at the time of submission;

o   Incorrect information was given in the acknowledgement concerning the involvement of a scientist at the sponsoring institution; and

o   Co-authorship rights of scientists at the sponsoring institution were breached.

Sakr evidently decided not to withdraw the article herself, precipitating the retraction. Since the end result is the same, that seems like a distinction without a difference. Again, Seem:

Apparently the author let it be retracted, perhaps she did not understand the consequences.  Regardless, the paper was not very impactful.  I had asked her to shorten the paper because there was overlap with some of her other publications.  Also, she was proposing a different way to look at virulence and aggressiveness, and  I suspect most readers would stick with the more traditional ways of dealing with virulence and aggressiveness.

Written by amarcus41

August 4th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Comments
  • Conrad T Seitz MD August 4, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    A diferent way to look at virulence and aggressiveness? That might be interesting, or it could be delusional. Depending on your point of view. Apparently Dr Sakr’s point of view regarding authorship is a little different too. Did the “co-authors” actually not have any involvement in preparing the paper? Was the “scientist at the sponsoring institution” also not involved? I’m a litle confused about that, and apparently so was Dr Sakr.

  • Robert Evans AS August 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    “A diferent way to look at virulence and aggressiveness? That might be interesting, or it could be delusional. Depending on your point of view. ”

    Yes, and the issue in my eyes is whether an “interesting” theoretical idea could be quashed by a former advisor / former co-researchers if they happen to have though it delusional instead of interesting. In another venue, events such as this are what tenure was invented for.

    None of the “basic concerns” were about actual theoretical or practical science. Should a retraction occur when no actual scientific methodologies were breached (fabrication, falsification, duplication, etc…)?

    “Did the “co-authors” actually not have any involvement in preparing the paper? Was the “scientist at the sponsoring institution” also not involved?”

    From what I’m given to understand, the point at which people become co-authors or are simply acknowledged isn’t a hard line. Is there a reason to list others as “co-authors” if the primary point of the paper is to make a theoretical leap which happens to be based off of their data?

    With respect to this retraction there are many questions looking for answers.

  • Marco August 5, 2011 at 1:32 am

    Not to nitpick (grin), but I think there’s a “not” missing in:

    “Not to nitpick, but we were sure what that notice really was trying to say”.

    Makes a world of difference in meaning!
    (and feel free to remove this comment if you decide to correct, it’s a nitpick after all)

    • ivanoransky August 5, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Fixed. An important nitpick, and we would know! Thanks.

  • John August 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    This worries me because the lack of detail makes it difficult to understand the problem. Many of us err on the side of giving credit to colleagues with smaller roles. Suppose I am writing a paper with a couple other researchers. Maybe there was a summer student a year ago who helped in an important way. I would be inclined to put them in the author list. I would probably not go to great lengths to track this person down and ask them to proofread the paper, especially if I thought they would not likely contribute to the editing process. This is not rare. This is probably a very bad practice. We do it because we don’t want to be accused of leaving anyone out (a greater crime?),

    IP lawyers will tell you that a patent application is not like a journal article, that you can not list the minor contributors. In fact, there are rules about attributing inventorship that are more strict than most scientists and engineers understand. However, leaving someone off because they don’t meet the strict definition of an inventor is a recipe for angry colleagues.

    Yes, I have made it clear that I know what I am supposed to do in these situations, but the need to maintain productive relationships with collaborators makes it tough to stick to the rules. Maybe what we need to teach is that you shouldn’t be so upset if you are not included.

    Or…I could just not do anything significant and none of this will matter.

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