Ghost authorship? Two Meccanica retractions as an author’s work is plagiarized by disappearing scientists
About two years ago, Marc Duflot, a research engineer at Cenaero, heard a disturbing tale from a collaborator. The collaborator, it seemed, had been asked to review a paper submitted to a journal, and noticed that it was remarkably similar to a paper by Duflot. Duflot’s collaborator recommended that the journal reject the paper, and it did. Duflot tells Retraction Watch (we added a link to the paper in question):
Then, several months later, I discovered that the…paper had been submitted and accepted in Meccanica. If I remember correctly, I discovered it by searching the web with Google Scholar with terms related to my field of expertise.
So in January 2010, Duflot wrote to the editors of Meccanica to alert them to the plagiarism by the authors, M. Garzon and D. Sargoso of the University of Madrid. He concluded his email:
I am deeply disappointed by the fraudulent behaviour of M. Garzon and D. Sargoso. Strangely, I cannot find any mention of these two people on the web neither of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Madrid. Otherwise, I would have reported this to the head of their department.
An editorial assistant got back to him:
I am really sorry for the situation, and I apologize for all problems that the publication of this paper could have caused to you.
After acceptance of the paper and after online publication, at the end of November Professor Sargoso (second author of the paper) discovered that his student, Dr Garzon, had cheated on results and methods and thus he asked us to withdraw the paper. He did not specify that the manuscript was a plagiarism of other papers, but we started working on the withdrawal. Unfortunately, when a paper is published online, it is official and it cannot be simply deleted from the system: a withdrawal note of the authors is required for the withdrawal. We then asked this note to the authors, but we could not receive a proper note from Professor Sargoso or from Dr Garzon, even after several reminders.
However, after your communication, we have decided to accelerate the procedure and we have written the required note: we think that the gravity of the situation you presented us must not wait for the time of the authors. Yesterday we sent the note to Mr Pieren (in copy) who will provide to withdraw the paper.
I apolgoze again for the situation and I thank you again for having pointed out this matter.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. In early February 2010, Duflot wrote the editors again:
I hardly believe it but I found a second instance of plagiarism concerning one of my papers in Meccanica. The paper Fracture analysis using an enriched meshless method by G. Hildebrand (University of Paderborn) Meccanica 44(5):535-545 http://www.springerlink.com/content/5xx7kgt1m7250480 is a plagiarism without attribution of the following paper published by Wiley in 2004:
A meshless method with enriched weight functions for fatigue crack growth Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang (2004) International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering 59:1945-1961
Both papers are attached for your convenience. Like with Garzon’s paper, the innovative numerical method, all the equations, some of the text and all numerical results are a copy of my paper.
Consequently, I request that you withdraw that paper as well.
For your information, I am going to report this incident to the University of Paderborn dean.
Duflot did report the incident to the University of Paderborn, and there’s where the story gets even more strange. It turns out that the university had no record of a Gunter Hildebrand. We checked with them today, and they still don’t. And the email address Hildebrand listed on his paper bounced.
All of that has led to two retractions — the dates of which, we should note, are difficult to figure out from publisher Springer’s site. First, the notice for the Garzon-Sargoso paper:
Because of the regrettable behavior of one of the authors (Dr Garzon) the paper “Equilibrium meshless method” has been withdrawn, since the paper is a fraud and its content and results are copied from other manuscripts. Apologies are due to Dr Duflot who emphasized the plagiarism of the Garzon paper with his paper: “Dual analysis by a meshless method” by Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang published in Communications in Numerical Methods in Engineering, Volume 18, Issue 9, Pages 621–631, 2002
We need to stress that the second author of the paper, Dr Sargoso, on November 28th, 2009 discovered that Dr Garzon cheated on results and methods and asked us to withdraw the paper. We could not withdraw the paper until now, since an author withdrawal note would be required to proceed. However, since we have not received a proper note from either of the “Equilibrium meshless method” paper authors, and considering the communications of Dr Duflot, Meccanica preferred to withdraw the paper in order to prevent an illicit spread of the paper itself.
Next, the notice for the Hildebrand paper, which has been cited just once, by another paper in Meccanica:
Because of the regrettable behavior of the author (Professor Gunter Hildebrand) the paper “Fracture analysis using an enriched meshless method” DOI 10.1007/s11012-008-9189-4 has been withdrawn, since the paper is a fraud and its content and results are copied from another manuscript. Apologies are due to Dr Duflot who emphasized the plagiarism of the Hildebrand paper with his paper: A meshless method with enriched weight functions for fatigue crack growth Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang (2004) International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering 59:1945-1961. We have tried to obtain an explanation from Professor Hildebrand on this matter, but did not receive any reply from him. Since we have not received a proper note from Professor Hildebrand, and considering the communications of Dr Duflot, Meccanica preferred to withdraw the paper in order to prevent an illicit spread of the paper itself.
We’ve contacted the editor of Meccanica for comment about the circumstances of these retractions, and will update with anything we hear back.
Update, 8:30 p.m., 11/18/11: Meccanica’s editorial assistant, Nicola Sancisi, responded on behalf of the editor:
I do not know if the procedure we used to retract the paper is a general Springer policy. The procedure was indeed decided by the Editor and me and was then discussed with our collaborators at Springer; it was then applied in this and in another case of plagiarism we experienced.
In general, the procedure was devised according to common sense, due to the particular situation. The paper you are referring to was indeed published in Meccanica, after a review process that was based on the comments of two reviewers: the paper went throught a major revision and then was accepted in revised form. Unfortunately, both reviewers did not notice that the paper was a plagiarism of a previous paper from different Authors; we also did not notice this. After publication, the co-Author of the paper (Professor Sargoso) wrote us to withdraw the paper, since he discovered that his student (i.e. the first Author) “cheated on results and methods”.
After the message of Professor Sargoso, we tried to clarify the situation with both Authors, since it was not clear what exactly the first Author did. Moreover, sometime it happens that due to personal affairs one author accuses the other, in order to cast him in a bad light and to damage him on the professional side. Before retraction we needed to be sure what happened.
However, after a few days a different Author wrote us to point out that the paper was a plagiarism of a paper he published some years before. We checked the two papers and they looked actually quite similar: not only the results were the same, but some paragraphs were very similar. Again, we tried to clarify the situation with both Authors: since plagiarism is a serious point, we needed to be sure that the two papers were not simply similar, but that they were actually the same paper. Moreover, we believe that before retracting for plagiarism is necessary to know the opinion of all parts, the accused Authors included: they could clarify some aspects that are not evident at a first analysis.
We fixed a deadline for the Authors to reply to our messages. Unfortunately both Authors did not reply to our messages and to our requests of explantions. Thus, we retracted the paper before receipt of a note from the Authors.
Hat tip: “Clare Francis”