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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Why editors should stop ignoring anonymous whistleblowers: Our latest LabTimes column

with 48 comments

A retraction notice appeared a few months ago in the Biophysical Journal:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of Edward Egelman, Editor-in-Chief.

The editors have noted that there is a substantial overlap of figures and text between this Biophysical Journal article and D. Rutkauskas, V. Novoderezkhin, R.J. Cogdell and R. van Grondelle. Fluorescence spectral fluctuations of single LH2 complexes from Rhodopseudomonas acidophila strain 10050. Biochemistry, 43 (2004) 4431–4438, doi:10.1021/bi0497648. The submission of this paper was inconsistent with the Biophysical Journal policy which states: “Manuscripts submitted to Biophysical Journal (BJ) must be original; papers that have already been published or are concurrently submitted elsewhere for publication are not acceptable for submission. This includes manuscripts previously submitted to BJ, as well as material that has been submitted to other journals while BJ is considering the manuscript. If some part of the work has appeared or will appear elsewhere, the authors must give the specific details of such appearances in the cover letter accompanying the BJ submission. If previously published illustrative material, such as figures or tables, must be included, the authors are responsible for obtaining the appropriate permissions from the publisher(s) before the material may be published in BJ”. We are therefore retracting the publication of the Biophysical Journal article.

Ordinarily, such duplications go to the bottom of our list of retractions to cover, despite how common they are. There’s usually less of a story behind them than there is behind a completely opaque notice, or behind one that sports a whiff of fraud. But they’re still important, as Bruce Chabner, the editor of The Oncologist, pointed out in a recent issue of his journal in which a duplication retraction appeared:

It requires effort and thought to write about the same subject in an original way in multiple publications. It is much easier to simply cut and paste from an earlier work. While most authors are well aware of the proscriptions against use of material published by others, it may be less obvious that self-plagiarism is an equally serious transgression, with consequences for the responsible author’s career and academic standing. There are legal reasons as well for prohibiting plagiarism of material written either by others or by oneself. In allowing publication of a manuscript, the author must assign copyright to the journal’s publisher, and obviously it is illegal to assign copyright of the same material to multiple journals and publishers. While the immediate reaction to self-plagiarism might be less punitive (one is after all stealing from one’s own work), the copyright issue is still a serious legal problem. Second, it is unethical to represent the work as original in a second publication, and from an academic standpoint, to expand one’s bibliography with multiple versions of the same material. The proliferation of journals that publish reviews, often ghostwritten, without peer review, and often under sponsorship by commercial interests, has markedly increased the potential for self-plagiarism, and as this incident illustrates, abuses are likely widespread.

Duplication is a problem for people writing reviews about others’ work, too, and for meta-analyses: The same trial will be counted twice, or even more times, if it’s published separately. That amplifies the apparent importance of many findings that may not be terribly significant.

There’s a specific reason why we mention the Biophysical Journal retraction: We know how the duplication came to light. It was, in fact, the same way that the retraction in The Oncologist emerged: “Clare Francis” alerted the editors to the overlap, after running the now-retracted study through plagiarism detection software.

Clare’s name — or, more correctly, his or her pseudonym — may be familiar to Retraction Watch readers. Clare frequently alerts us to retractions and other news, so “Clare Francis” often shows up in our hat tips. But not everyone thinks Clare deserves any credit. In our most recent column for LabTimes, we note that some editors refuse to investigate anything Clare sends them, because they don’t know who Clare really is — and Clare doesn’t feel the need to tell them. The Committee on Publication Ethics doesn’t seem terribly worried about anonymous tips, so what gives? As we write:

[W]e’re baffled as to why editors and institutions ignore private emails from anonymous whistle-blowers. Unless, of course, they’re trying to find ways not to do the work of investigating the claims – work that, one way or another, is their responsibility.

What if a tipster is just using anonymity to bash someone’s work, or, worse, the person himself? Our thoughts:

[W]e treat anonymous tipsters the same as we treat tipsters who send us plenty of information about themselves. We don’t demand their real names or affiliations. Editors should do the same. That’s because facts are stubborn things and we haven’t seen any evidence yet that people who identify themselves have any more of a monopoly on them than those who want to remain anonymous – sometimes for excellent reasons.

You can read the entire column, which features an email exchange between us and one editor who doesn’t like anonymous tips, here. And we of course welcome comments below.

 

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48 Responses

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  1. Duplication retraction!? What a concept!! Actually, I think it’s a great concept, since duplication is huge bane for science. I have in some occasions spent time looking at the work of certain persons or groups, only to realize that the “independent” publication is really just the same stuff.

    Paul Thompson

    December 9, 2011 at 9:44 am

  2. A number of parties identify and report allegations of misconduct or other ethical publication issues. Whether they are anonymous sources or editors, reviewers, authors, colleagues, third-party observers such as readers, the journal has the responsibility to consider it in the same manner.

    Diane Scott-Lichter

    December 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

    • Completely agree, the primary issue to the editor of the journal should be the potential for plagarism, not who highlighted the issue.

      Emma

      December 12, 2011 at 7:47 am

  3. Considering how long it often takes a journal to retract a defective article, even when clear evidence is provided and the complainant makes his/her identity known, it seems likely that editors are not protecting authors from harassment by cranks or by people with grudges, but are rather protecting themselves from unpleasantness. If the anonymous complainant provides evidence — for example, underlined passages in a copy of the publication that was the source of the plagiarized material or a copy of the highly similar article previously published by the same set of authors — I don’t believe that anonymity reduces the factual basis for the complaint.

    My own sad experience with reporting plagiarism in a master’s thesis suggests that supposedly responsible authorities are often more worried that their own lax performance will be exposed and/or that their institution’s reputation will be besmirched and are less worried about truth and fair play.

    Even if we jettison the human desire for fair recognition, the potential for unsolvable copyright disputes, and the need to deflate falsely inflated publication records, there is still the problem, as you point out, that a single study published multiple times may be counted as multiple studies all leading to the same conclusion. Truth is hard enough to find. Scientists shouldn’t make it harder for each other.

    JudyH

    December 9, 2011 at 10:40 am

  4. Yeah, but…

    I agree that duplicative publication is a sign of mental laziness and of a haphazard approach to the legalities of publishing. I also agree that it wastes a reader’s time and can become a problem if two descriptions of the same findings wind up in a meta-analysis.

    But for Dr. Chabner to say that “self-plagiarism is an equally serious transgression” to plagiarism of others seems self-serving and silly. He is, after all, a journal editor….

    Self-plagiarism is really only about who owns the copyright. Journals want to feel special. But if an author has been writing about a particular method for some time, that author has probably worked out a clear and succinct explanation of the method. Should the author be required to find new words to describe it? That could generate confusion, since it might seem a new method is being described. Alternatively, an author could reference an earlier work and not describe the method at all, but I hate being forced to read a second paper when I’m often in a hurry. And sometimes that second paper doesn’t say what the author remembers it to say!

    Some degree of “word recycling” does not seem a problem, especially if a proper citation is given for the words. There should be a limit of course; it is fraudulent to recycle 100% of the words in a paper, but merely transgressive to recycle 20% of them.

    Recycling of data is something entirely different. Any discussion of self-plagiarism that does not differentiate between recycling words and recycling data is too vague to be helpful.

    R. Grant Steen

    December 9, 2011 at 10:46 am

    • 22% recyling will earn you a retraction from the Expert Opinons Journals series, informa healthcare , so be warned!

      If you recyle you should cite it.

      Why the continual debate about what should, or should not be, allowed?

      Read the icmje guidelines for overlapping publicaitons!

      http://www.icmje.org/publishing_4overlap.html

      Acceptable Secondary Publication

      Certain types of articles, such as guidelines produced by governmental agencies and professional organizations, may need to reach the widest possible audience. In such instances, editors sometimes deliberately publish material that is also being published in other journals, with the agreement of the authors and the editors of those journals. Secondary publication for various other reasons, in the same or another language, especially in other countries, is justifiable and can be beneficial provided that the following conditions are met.

      1. The authors have received approval from the editors of both journals (the editor concerned with secondary publication must have a photocopy, reprint, or manuscript of the primary version).

      2. The priority of the primary publication is respected by a publication interval of at least 1 week (unless specifically negotiated otherwise by both editors).

      3. The paper for secondary publication is intended for a different group of readers; an abbreviated version could be sufficient.

      4. The secondary version faithfully reflects the data and interpretations of the primary version.

      5. The footnote on the title page of the secondary version informs readers, peers, and documenting agencies that the paper has been published in whole or in part and states the primary reference. A suitable footnote might read: “This article is based on a study first reported in the [title of journal, with full reference].”

      It ain’t difficult.

      David Hardman

      December 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

      • Just because some old farts created some self-serving rules does not mean that these rules make sense or that they should not be changed. Just boycott journals that have silly rules. There are plenty of journals to choose from out there…

        Jon Beckmann

        December 10, 2011 at 5:26 am

  5. Very nice post.

    I have personally been having a lot of trouble reporting a long series of plagiarized and self-plagiarized papers as editors insist on ignoring claims from sources “other than the authors” or “from people out of their [exact] area of expertise”.

    Such journals ought to be retracted themselves. They are actually a serious threat to Science.

    I think one good solution would be to publish the claims somewhere and incentivate readers to write to the journals endorsing the claims if they feel they have solid basis. This way the journals are exposed, as they are meant to be, and complaints come from several subjects interested in correcting the issue.

    Mr. M.

    December 9, 2011 at 10:54 am

    • But the editors would start the process of wanting to “know” who the readers/complainants were all over again!

      David Hardman

      December 9, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      • Usually they want to know because they want someone to assume responsibility in case their authors go really mad. Just picture what happens following a retraction in which editors and authors work in the same building, which is usually a rule in smaller periodicals.

        If there are many complainants, and if most are from other spheres they are not afraid of political retaliation (why should I care for what a physician thinks about my job with beetles?) thus they do not care about giving out their names and address.

        You break the cycle “No-Name-no-Action”

        Mr. M.

        December 10, 2011 at 10:01 am

  6. One may ask why someone anonymously reports scientific fraud correctly. It is more interesting, however, to find out why someone uses their full name to report scientific data incorrectly. In the case of Dr. R. van Grondelle, last author of the retracted BJ article, his self evaluation, as published on his website, may help the reader to understand what may be at the heart of this and other “duplicate” publications. An underdeveloped sense of self-importance is probably not to be blamed. But then, I am not a specialist. Dr Hauser, Dr Stapel, please investigate!

    Here it goes http://www.nat.vu.nl/~rienk/research.html#research here it goes

    Self evaluation
    The VU-Biophysics research group, started by me in 1988, is the world leading group in the study of the primary processes in photosynthesis using laser- and other spectroscopic tools. There is no group in the world who has contributed so much to our current understanding of the light-harvesting and charge separation processes in photosynthesis. We have successfully applied and further developed ultrafast and other laser-spectroscopic techniques to understand the process of photosynthetic light-harvesting and charge separation on the basis of the underlying physics. In addition to applying state-of-the-art techniques we have developed important new experimental tools such as multi-pulse-, visible-pump-midIR-, stark-, and time-resolved single molecule emission spectroscopy. We are the world leading group in the development and application of global- and target-analysis techniques to analyze complex multi-dimensional data. This has directly led to our successful attempts to understand photosynthetic light-harvesting and charge separation at the level of the intact thylakoid membrane. We made essential contributions to the development of the disordered exciton/Redfield relaxation model that explains the complex phenomenology of photosynthetic light-harvesting. On the basis of these achievements we could recently identify the major component in the process of energy dissipation in photosynthesis. Recently, in the Netherlands a major research program Towards BioSolar Cells was initiated (42 MEuro), partly inspired by this work.

    Double Dutch

    December 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    • First of all, I will reply with my real name, not something fake.Second, this is not an attempt to excuse myself or my co-authors, it is a record of how things sometimes go in serious science where real discoveries are being made. Around the turn of the previous century I initiated the kind of single molecule experiments as described in the retracted paper. The idea was to watch environmental (pH, temp, salt, detergent) induced transitions at the level of a single photosynthetic complex, an underlying idea was that maybe such an environmentally controlled function might be a basis for for instance the regulation of photosynthesis (anybody who has taken the trouble to follow my scientific career since then, may have noticed that indeed we have a lot of experimental proof that this is indeed the case). When we started these experiments around 2000 they were unique in the world, nobody had done anything similar. We built equipment, we developed a procedure to study photosynthetic complexes at the single molecule level, while at the same time keeping them alive, we developed software to analyze the data, we extended and applied our excitonic models to interpret the results. All of this was only and uniquely done by us, we were the only research team in the world doing such experiments. I remember going to Gordon conferences and showing these results and blowing an audience away. The results of this work were fantastic and laid the basis for what I and many others are doing today. When in 2003/4 we were in the process of reporting our first results on the peripheral photosynthetic light-harvesting complex of photosynthetic purple bacteria for biophysical journal, we realized that these findings were unique, we were aware of some possible competition and we decided to make a short version of the manuscript meant for biophysical journal (where i have published and am publishing much of my best scientific work), this was published as an accelerated paper in biochemistry and later the much extended manuscript in biophysical journal was published and later retracted. For anyone who has any idea about (1) the uniqueness of these experiments, (2) the complexity of the conditions under which they were performed reading the two papers would make it immediately clear that the biochemistry paper is a short, condensed version of the biophysical journal version. Yes we should have been more careful with the precise text (but would it have changed anything to the meaning), yes we could have produced ‘original’ figures (but would it have changed anything to the discovery), yes we should have made cross-references/self-citations, but maybe we forgot. Stupid, it should not be done that way, but disqualifying this research as just copying and copying and copying is not right. I and the people who did this research with me at that time are very proud of this work, it is absolutely unique, there is nothing even remotely similar and for that reason biophysical journal should have been proud of this article and these discoveries and have allowed me to explain the history of this work.

      Rienk van Grondelle

      rienk van grondelle

      January 11, 2014 at 6:02 pm

  7. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037704270800469X

    The link you give to the Biophysical Journal article and D. Rutkauskas, V. Novoderezkhin, R.J. Cogdell and R. van Grondelle article, in fact links to another retraction:

    Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics
    Volume 228, Issue 1, 1 June 2009, Pages 226-230

    ——————————————————————————–

    doi:10.1016/j.cam.2008.09.015 | How to Cite or Link Using DOI

    Cited By in Scopus (2)

    Permissions & Reprints

    RETRACTED: Asymptotic behavior of solutions to a system of differential equations with state-dependent delays☆

    Lijuan Wang ,

    Purchase

    Department of Mathematics, Capital Normal University, Beijing 100037, PR China

    College of Mathematics and Information Engineering, Jiaxing University, Jiaxing, Zhejiang 314001, PR China

    Available online 20 September 2008.

    This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy)This article has been retracted at the request of the Journal Editor.

    This article has been retracted at the request of the Journal Editor.

    The article is very similar to the following papers: (1) ‘Asymptotic behavior of solutions to a differential equation with state-dependent delay’ by Lequn Peng, published in Comput. Math. Appl., 57 (2009) 1511–1514; (2) ‘Asymptotic constancy for a differential equation with multiple state-dependent delays’ by Wentao Wang, Guangxue Yue and Chunxia Ou, published in J. Comput. Appl. Math., 233 (2009) 356–360.

    All these articles were written using the same Latex file, treating very similar problems in exactly the same way. The authors of the papers knew about the similarity between the papers, but did not make any reference to each other, and therefore violated the Ethical Rules of Publishing, at the time the papers were submitted for publication. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

    ☆This work was supported by Scientific Research Fund of Zhejiang Provincial Education Department (20070605).

    Corresponding address: College of Mathematics and Information Engineering, Jiaxing University, Jiaxing, Zhejiang 314001, PR China. Tel.: +86 057382112168; fax: +86 057382112168.

    David Hardman

    December 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    • Indeed. We quoted the retraction notice verbatim, and the DOI Elsevier included in the retraction notice — 10.1021/bi0497648 — is clearly redirecting to the wrong place. The link we include to the retraction notice goes to the right one.

      ivanoransky

      December 9, 2011 at 4:29 pm

  8. If the motives of the whistleblower are the issue, I don’t think Clare Francis’s motives need to be questioned. She seems to be tracking duplicate publication over a range of different fields, so it’s not likely that she wishes to damage any particular individual or group. So personal motives can probaby ruled out. Perhaps she simply wishes to help editors improve the overall ethical climate of STM publishing. Best of luck with that, Clare! Most editors out there may prefer to avoid getting involved in ethical issues–too much extra work.

    Nonetheless, anonymity is not good–not for reviewers, not for whistleblowers, not for anyone–because it will lead to suspicions over motives. If Clare wishes to remain anonymous she will have to accept that some editors choose to ignore her.

    Karen Shashok

    December 10, 2011 at 3:29 am

  9. I don’t get it. What’s the problem with anonymity? Even if the whistleblower is a malicious begrudger, who only wants to harm one particular personal enemy of his – if there is no cause for concern, then the allegations can be turned down in no time. But if it can be proven, that data were made up or a figure was copied from a previous publication and has now a different labeling, the motivation of the whistleblower doesn’t play any role for judging the misbehavior of the author.
    In science it is the same as in the rest of the society. Denying the right to remain anonymous in a society with an inherent imbalance of power is harming the self-regulatory processes of this society. We all know, that certain people are in power to distribute grant money. If we refuse anonymous whistleblowing, who will be so brave to report these people in the future?

    And would my arguments gain validity, if I would write my comment under the name of Paul Stricker instead of using the pseudonym Mr Green? If you are affirmative of this – how do you know, that Paul Stricker (or Karen Shashok, for example) is not a pseudonym, too?

    Mr Green

    December 10, 2011 at 4:00 am

    • The issue is the asymmetry of costs to the accuser and the editor. The anonymous accuser is in the position of getting something for nothing. The anonymity allows a false accusation to be made with no cost to the accuser. If the accuser is known, a false accusation can be problematic for the ACCUSER. But the anonymous accusation is only a problem for the person being accused and for the editor, who must evaluate the truth of the accusation.

      If anonymous accusations are given full credibility, what is to stop the anonymous accuser of falsely accusing a scientific competitor of plagarism, faking data, etc? This can cause great difficulty for the accused, even if found innocent later.

      Paul Thompson

      December 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      • The main publishing houses,Wiley-Blackwell, Springer Press, Kluwer are multi-million dollar/pound/Euro enterprizes. It is up to them to put thier houses in order.

        Sticking to the issue of higly overlapping publications.
        They come up on public databases, you can inspect them by eye,
        and use similarity seeking computer programmes.
        I don’t see that this is too much to ask.
        Perhaps the various journals should make a concerted effort to search for
        highly overlapping publications and remove them.
        People do pay to read what they think is new unless specifically told otherwise.

        David Hardman

        December 15, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    • “But if it can be proven, that data were made up or a figure was copied from a previous publication and has now a different labeling, the motivation of the whistleblower doesn’t play any role for judging the misbehavior of the author.”

      I agree. The issue is the possible misconduct, not the identify of the whistleblower.

      “If we refuse anonymous whistleblowing, who will be so brave to report these people in the future?”

      It depends on the potential negative consequences for the whistleblower–which can be dire, as we know. But for the sake of transparency and accountability, it’s better for whistleblowers (and journal peer reviewers, since peer review is an opportunity to blow the whistle on scientific errors and occasionally suspicions of misconduct) to identify themselves.

      “And would my arguments gain validity, if I would write my comment under the name of Paul Stricker instead of using the pseudonym Mr Green? If you are affirmative of this – how do you know, that Paul Stricker (or Karen Shashok, for example) is not a pseudonym, too?”

      The validity would not be affected but maybe the credibility would. But if people use blog comments as a “safe” environment to express “dangerous” views or even data and evidence without having to be held accountable for them–well, that’s a social characteristic of the blogosphere nobody can change.

      A simple internet search should provide evidence that Karen Shashok is my real name. Guess I’m old-fashioned in that I feel if I have anything to say publicly, it should be for attribution.

      Publishers seem feel research ethics issues are not their problem, although they are glad to sign on to guidelines developed by COPE, ICMJE, WAME and CSE. Trouble is, when their own failures to abide by these guidelines are pointed out to them, they tend to stonewall or shift the responsibiilty to others, as we’ve seen in W-B’s response to Clare.

      Karen Shashok

      December 13, 2011 at 4:57 am

      • Hi, Karen. I’m curious about your statement that, “Publishers seem [to] feel research ethics issues are not their problem….” Do you have any evidence you could share?

        R. Grant Steen

        December 13, 2011 at 8:51 am

  10. I wonder how these name-liking editors would feel about some kind of automatic PubMed bot that checked all new papers against all existing papers.

    Such a thing is surely not far off.

    I suspect they would take it seriously, at least they would go and check themselves, they wouldn’t just ignore it.

    Neuroskeptic

    December 10, 2011 at 4:38 am

    • For my efforts I received the letter below from Roy S. Kaufman
      Legal Director, Wiley-Blackwell
      John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

      All I do is point out the similarities between publications. I do not say they are ethical violations, although I now believe that they are.

      Why do Roy Kaufman, and his employers, try to make me sound bad for pointing things out which are against the rules of publication?

      I even say that there will be false posivites, for example where there are good reasons for secondary publications, but that the editors and publishers will need to read and look at the publications to check.
      I don’t think that leads to “editors having (have) expended substantial resources”. Can’t they read and don’t they have their own computer programmes to detect similarities? Methinks that Wiley-Blackwell should put some resources into these things, such as adult education classes and buying some computer programmes and employing the necessary staff. Surely they could centralise this?

      Roy Kaufman has written “we can not guarantee that all anonymous allegations sent to us will be investigated”. Why does he write “In addition, we ask that you make future allegations only after you have conducted reasonable due diligence to confirm actual ethical violations”? It is the job of the editors and publishers to show due dilligence not me”. If he has interpreted claims that publications are highlysimilar as allegations of ethical violations (which they are) then he needs, as a lawyer, do do something about it.

      Roy Kaufman tries to downplay what is. “it has been established that there is some overlap with a previously published article”, when often publications are identical. He has also tried to make excuses, “but that the authors acted in good faith according to the then-prevailing standards at time of writing”. Some of the cases are very recent, most are since 2000. He is implying that there was a time when copying was O.K.. I do not believe that was ever the case.

      Roy Kaufman is deliberately trying to deflect valid criticism and being threatening in that it is implied that I am being unreasonable. All the editors have banded together to resist doing their rightful jobs. Wiley-Blackwell has been watching. 1984 has arrived!

      Clare.

      ———- Forwarded message ———-
      From: “Kaufman, Roy – Hoboken”
      Date: Wed, 21 Sep 2011 15:48:50 -0400
      Subject: Allegations of ethical violations
      To: “clare.francis1946@googlemail.com”

      Dear “Clare Francis”-

      I am writing to you on behalf of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Over the last few months, the editors of a number of journals published by us have received numerous e-mails from you alerting them to the possibility of dual publication and other related ethics violations. Wiley and its editors treat ethical issues with the utmost seriousness, and to date, your allegations have been investigated to the extent that the information and resources cited in your e-mails were available. These investigations have not so far disclosed any ethical misconduct on the part of authors that would require retraction of published articles. In a number of cases editors have expended substantial resources and determined that no problem exists. In others, it has been established that there is some overlap with a previously published article, but that the authors acted in good faith according to the then-prevailing standards at time of writing. In the later cases, where appropriate, corrective action has been taken.

      It is highly unusual in STM publishing to receive anonymous ethics complaints. When accusing another scientist of acting in an unethical manner, the accuser is expected to do so openly, so that the community can evaluate not only the substance of the accusations, but the potential bias of the accuser. We have repeatedly asked you to identify yourself, but you have not complied with our requests. Accordingly, I am writing to let you know that going forward, while we will certainly investigate those allegations in which you identify yourself and your affiliation, we can not guarantee that all anonymous allegations sent to us will be investigated. In addition, we ask that you make future allegations only after you have conducted reasonable due diligence to confirm actual ethical violations.

      Roy S. Kaufman
      Legal Director, Wiley-Blackwell
      John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
      111 River Street
      Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
      http://www.wiley.com
      rkaufman@wiley.com
      (201) 748-6918 (voice)
      (201) 748-6500 (fax)

      Clare Francis

      December 10, 2011 at 10:06 am

      • Clare, this is very funny for all the reasons that you mention. As if the standards of duplicate publication have changed over time. As if a huge publishing house would not have access to the information that you, a member of the general public, are able to cite in your allegation. As if an ulterior motive changes fact into fiction. I don’t know if you have what the lawyer terms a bias, but it doesn’t matter. A fact is a fact regardless of who is wielding it and to whatever end. If Wiley-Blackwell put as much effort into checking beforehand as they claim to have put into investigating your allegations, there wouldn’t be a problem. Hmmm, if they can’t afford to pay for plagiarism detection service like many journals do these days, maybe they could pay you ten pounds a week to cast your eye over their proposed line-up of articles to see if you recognize anything. :-)

        JudyH

        December 10, 2011 at 11:08 am

  11. great job Clare. Really appreciate your efforts. It is a shame that editors do write like this. Anonymous feedback is most of the time genuine as far as I know of. On another note, the editors should also make the reviewers’ names public for all the articles they accept or reject; with favorable comments or not-so-favourable comments. Then truth will come out who is on whose side. How one can publish articles in high profile journals with utmost ease – whether lobbying or biased reviewers exist or not. How about that? The authors will have the privilege to know who their reviewers are…

    Ressci Integrity

    December 10, 2011 at 10:38 am

  12. As stated above, if the author has been writing on a subject for years, they often have a preferred way of explaining things, but then that is where the editor’s investigation comes in.

    If the duplication is all in the introduction, particularly in a review, but the articles then diverge, as long as the previous article is cited, I don’t see an problem as the authors need to give the reader a background to the area discussed.

    Of course, results, analysis and conclusions are a very different story, reusing previous articles to increase a bibliography is scientifically and morally wrong and should be prevented.

    COPE has excellent guidelines for editors on the issue of plagarism and duplication, both prior to and after publication. As an industry, publishing needs to set a level of acceptability. In the meantime, COPE’s guidelines seem to work pretty well.

    Emma

    December 12, 2011 at 7:38 am

  13. Interesting that Wiley-Blackwell say that none of the “Clare Francis” tipoffs have led to retractions – do they know about the retractions from other publishers?

    Are they saying that they wouldn’t have retracted those papers?

    Neuroskeptic

    December 12, 2011 at 7:55 am

    • I meant “none of the “Clare Francis” tipoffs have led to retractions in WB journals”

      Neuroskeptic

      December 12, 2011 at 7:56 am

  14. Can other people please take up the baton?

    There are various ways to search this free, US government-funded (the US government funds the NIH) database.

    Put a name, or place in the search box.

    http://spore.vbi.vt.edu/dejavu/duplicate/

    It takes 30 seconds, or so, to see the list of likely overlapping publications after pressing search.

    Click on the far left number under the ID column, and then scroll down the page to see the similarities highlighted in blue.

    Very quickly you will get a feel of whether there is a lot of overlap. You can see if there are reasons for duplicate publications. It may say SANCTIONED, or say in the comments that they are sanctioned for known reasons. Of course there will be false positives.

    You will also quickly get a feel for who is duplicating their work often.

    It is only a place to start, but the editors, publishers should take a high degree of overlap at the level of the abstracts to read the full articles. Abstracts are supposed to be a condensed version of the main points.

    You can also search by journal.

    Go to the journal list:

    http://spore.vbi.vt.edu/dejavu/statistics/journal/

    Copy the journal code

    then go to

    http://spore.vbi.vt.edu/dejavu/duplicate/search/

    set the “search in box” to both

    the put the journal code into the journal box,

    then press search (bottom right corner).

    An example:

    http://spore.vbi.vt.edu/dejavu/duplicate/?pmids__ref__Journal__iexact=ANN%20N%20Y%20ACAD%20SCI&&type=botharticles

    The editors will say things like it is an “annals”, or “archive”, or “proceedings”, in a “supplement”, when often the articles give the impression of an experimental piece of work with methods and results sections. One managing editor said that they only have volunteer staff, so you you shouldn’t expect so much, even though on thier adverts they boast about the highest scientific standards. Sometimes the later article does cite the earlier publication, but often not in a way to make it obvious that the later article is a reprint. Some editors will say that they were not editor at the time, that the journal has changed hands, sometimes only recently, as reason for not doing anything.

    Annals do get retracted.

    http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/22/11/2536.full

    Clare Francis

    December 12, 2011 at 11:58 am

    • Dear Clair,

      Please have a look at the list on COPE website on http://publicationethics.org/category/publisher/wiley-blackwell.

      The email by Mr. Kaufman, especially concerning his statement “…we can not guarantee that all anonymous allegations sent to us will be investigated” is a direct infringement of the terms established by COPE. All members of COPE are compelled to investigate ANY allegations of misconduct AND inform the interested parts about the outcome. Many, if not all, journals of Wiley-Blackwell are members of COPE.

      If you have any trouble with any journals from the list in these regards, report them to COPE. If COPE fails you, spread what happened around. They depend on their image.

      Hope this helps any reader.

      Mr. M.

      December 15, 2011 at 7:26 am

      • I have done this.

        I do not want to appear pernickety, or mean.
        My view is that people do not need “double-helpings”.
        If they have published something once, then good on them. Why do they need to publish it more than once? For career?

        I found that the editor of Herz, Raimond Erbel, published a highly overlapping piece 5 times in total. Since then I have heard from 2 of the editors, one of them, Henry Greenberg writes that he was not editor at the time. It takes time to see a pattern. The “deja vu database” is out-of-date, last updated in 2007 for mayn articles, in 2009 for fewer articles.

        Christmas is nearly here and so far nothing has happened.

        ———- Forwarded message ———-
        From: Henry Greenberg
        Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 07:50:33 -0400
        Subject: Re: confusion over 5 overlapping publications
        To: clare francis
        Cc: Jane Grochowski

        Can you please identify yourself? Your query relates to an article years
        before I became editor.

        HGreenberg

        On Wed, Jul 27, 2011 at 10:51 AM, clare francis wrote:

        > Dear editors of the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, David
        > Eisner, of the Circulation Journal, Hiroaki Shimokawa, and of Progress in
        > Cadiovascular Diseases, Henry Greenberg,
        >
        > I am confused by the highly overlapping publications attached.
        >
        > I have not written to the editors-in-chief of Herz and of Basic Research in
        > Cardiology as they are authors of the articles.
        >
        > Yours sincerely,
        >
        > Clare Francis

        Herz 2004;29-777–81.pdf
        414K View as HTML Scan and download
        Circ J 2003; 67- 279 –286.pdf
        310K View as HTML Scan and download
        Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology 37 (2004) 23–31.pdf
        410K View as HTML Scan and download
        Basic Res Cardiol 101-373–382 (2006).pdf
        369K View as HTML Scan and download
        December) 2001- pp 217-230.pdf
        215K View as HTML Scan and download

        I also heard once from another editor, but nothing since.

        ———- Forwarded message ———-
        From: David Eisner
        Date: Thu, 28 Jul 2011 08:30:55 +0000
        Subject: RE: confusion over 5 overlapping publications
        To: clare francis
        Cc: “JMCC (ELS)” , “Osuch, Michael (ELS-CAM)”

        Dear Clare Francis,

        I am writing (as Editor in Chief of JMCC) to acknowledge receipt of your email and attachments. I will investigate further with the authors.

        Yours sincerely,

        David Eisner

        ******************************
        David Eisner FRCP (Hon), FMedSci
        BHF Professor of Cardiac Physiology
        Unit of Cardiac Physiology
        Manchester Academic Health Science Centre
        University of Manchester
        3.18 Core Technology Facility
        46 Grafton Street,
        Manchester M13 9NT

        Tel (+44) 161 275 2702
        Fax (+44) 161 275 2703
        email eisner@man.ac.uk

        http://www.medicine.manchester.ac.uk/staff/DavidEisner

        From: clare francis [mailto:clare.francis1946@googlemail.com]
        Sent: 27 July 2011 15:52
        To: David Eisner
        Cc: shimo@cardio.med.tohoku.ac.jp; pcvdeditors@gmail.com
        Subject: confusion over 5 overlapping publications

        Dear editors of the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, David Eisner, of the Circulation Journal, Hiroaki Shimokawa, and of Progress in Cadiovascular Diseases, Henry Greenberg,

        I am confused by the highly overlapping publications attached.

        I have not written to the editors-in-chief of Herz and of Basic Research in Cardiology as they are authors of the articles.

        Yours sincerely,

        Clare Francis

        Clare Francis

        December 15, 2011 at 9:46 am

  15. R. Grant Steen asked about evidence that publishers seem to feel that research ethics issues are not their problem.

    A case study of editorial and publisher ethics (failure to correct the record, not about research data but about potentially difamatory views about a third party) involving a Springer journal is available here http://www.emwa.org/Home/Webeditorial-7.html. Readers interested in the broader implications of what I found may want to skip straight to the “Editorial interference” section, where a couple of earlier cases of editorial and publisher inaction are briefly reviewed and cited.

    Karen Shashok

    December 13, 2011 at 12:40 pm

  16. Dear Claire,

    http://publicationethics.org/members/p

    Of the journals you mentioned the first and last are members of COPE. If they insist on not taking any action or in getting your ID for further communication, report them to COPE. Anyway, as you mentioned the editors-in-chief are involved in duplicate papers, I really think you ought to report that to COPE and make a big case out of it. This is interesting enough to hit the news; if COPE doesn’t act, they are not worth trusting. They charge members some 500 pounds a year, if I am not mistaken, thus they are an enterprise as any other else, and should comply with consumers’ demands on their claims.

    I think this is a big cause.

    Mr. M

    December 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    • COPE will investigate complaints that its members have not followed its Code of Conduct for Editors but we don’t investigate individual cases of misconduct so, when an editor is acting as an author, we would leave it to the journal to look into this. Sorry to be joining this discussion rather late, but I was travelling last week.

      Liz Wager (COPE Chair)

      December 19, 2011 at 10:34 am

      • Dear Liz,

        This discussion is really good indeed, I very much appreciate the job COPE has been doing.

        What I meant is that I think it is relevant to report the fact that the editor-in-chief of one given periodical might be one interested in not investigating some claim which involves him as an author. Claire Francis here seems to have found one of these instances. And, of course, the fact that apparently some journals from Blackwell are not willing to investigate claims from unidentified sources.

        I do not think that COPE should take over the investigation in case it involves the editor-in-chief, but maybe there should be some advice/direction in such a situation.

        Membership in COPE is seen by many authors as a positive point when picking a periodical to publish their work. I want my paper to show in some reliable vehicle. Yet if the editor-in-chief himself has interest in manipulating the investigations, many unethical journals might join in and wreck this assumption real quick. At least they ought to be requested to openly present the results of some believe-it-or-not impartial investigation. I think this is quite useful in this new mania of open blogs about scientific misconduct: let the reader decide on the issue.

        What do others think? Claire?

        Mr. M.

        December 19, 2011 at 3:12 pm

      • There is a point in Mr. M argument.

        And I think someone fixed Claire Francis for good… hehehe

        Rafa

        December 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm

  17. One big problem is that once one publishes a high profile paper, or widely cited one, the author is usually asked to write a review. Often, the same review subject is asked for by numerous journals. How is it possible to write a thorough review on the same subject in a narrow time window without reusing much of the material? This leads to multiple bouts of self-plagiarism that really is as much the fault of the journals (as it is of the author for accepting the invitation) for not checking carefully what has recently been published by the same author.

    Boris Jenkins

    December 15, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    • Have they never thought of refusing invitations numbers 2, 3, etc ?
      It is not a problem, they just say no to the second and third.. requests to write a review..
      Put the pen down!

      A review of the field once is fine, but sometimes you see reviews of their own experimental paper with a few decorations thrown in. Such a “review” belong in the discussion section of the experimental paper.

      David Hardman

      December 18, 2011 at 8:39 am

  18. Good point to bring in. It can be accepted that a senior author of a high profile paper will be asked to write a review – i am confident that such senior authors will be able to publish multiple reviews without “copying” as they have the expertise, experience in the field (experience is a relative word to use – probably years of experience in the filed and/or number of publications back it up). However, if a very junior author (may be his or her first paper) is asked to write the review (either by invitation or by request from the senior author), there lies the problem of “copying”…hope you are getting the point. I can provide examples are reviews written by graduate students and even undergraduate students. I just saw a paper on autophagy by Guido Kroemer’s group in Science today. Check who has written the perspective on this paper in Science (assuming that he reviewed this paper for Science). I was curious to know whether the person who wrote the perspective is an expert in the field or not. If you search on pubmed you will get about 15 or so papers and that too 3 or 4 papers on autophagy. With due respect to genius kids around, I am very impressed with this person with three or more papers for reviewing report for Science and write a perspective on the paper. I am not understimating the potential of young students but as an old timer, I feel that one needs to have some sort of experience either clinically or experimentally to write a perspective or a review? May be I am short-sighted, there is nothing personal about this…i am just amused. We are not too far from reading reviews and expert opinions from summer students – era of internent can advance our learning abilities and many more…wikipedia can be a good resource for high school students…This may be the reason we see more duplicate publications? Just a thought…please don’t target me for this comment, this is just an honest opinion and probably I am wrong.

    Ressci Integrity

    December 16, 2011 at 1:51 am

  19. I wrote a review article with a rather senior European professor about 10-15 years ago. A few years later I ordered a book on the same topic. Much to my surprise, the introductory chapter was extremely similar to our review article! But then I noticed a footnote saying that much of the chapter had been taken from our review article. However now the senior European professor was the only author on the chapter, even though much of it had been taken from our jointly authored review. So is that plagiarism or not? I didn’t do anything about it, except to remind myself not to collaborate any more with this professor.I had in fact written a lot of the review, and also done a lot of clean-up because the professor was not a native English speaker.

    Carolyn

    December 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    • This is indeed plagiarism–and not just self-plagiarism!

      R. Grant Steen

      December 19, 2011 at 9:19 pm

      • Clearly the book editors knew that the source for the chapter was basically a previous review by two authors but that the chapter was only being authored by 1 of the 2 authors of the previous review, and the editors allowed this to happen. Maybe the editor(s) and the professor all felt that having the footnote covered the situation adequately.

        On the other side of the coin, I also once authored a brief review chapter in a book. When I got the book, I saw that not only was I listed as an author of my chapter, but I had also been listed as one of the authors on a brief introductory chapter to our section – a chapter that I knew nothing about and had never even seen.

        Carolyn

        December 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

  20. Paper #1:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22144354

    “It is now well known and studied that when a microorganism is growing under a strong pressure of selection (high temperature, strong substrate limitation, maladapted or nonnative carbon substrate etc.), variants are likely to emerge bearing changes in the DNA sequence that bring about an advantageous change in phenotype. If the selection is being applied to cell growing in liquid, the population with the original phenotype will be rapidly displaced by the variants (1, 2).

    The genetic adaptation of a microorganism under a strong pressure of selection was used several years ago to change the substrate specificities of enzymes for the directed evolution of new functions. The first demonstration of this approach was done by using an E. coli strain with a lacZ deletion and by selecting spontaneous mutants that grow on lactose and other beta-galactoside sugars (3). In all the variants, the target of the evolution was the ebgA gene where point mutations in the structural gene alter the enzyme so that it hydrolyzes lactose, or lactulose or galactosylarabinose or lactobionic acid (4).

    More recently, experiments have demonstrated that organisms are capable of evolving whole new metabolic pathways. The most common experimental process is to put a microorganism in a novel environment that contains a chemical that the organism has not been exposed to in the past. If that new chemical is the sole source of carbon or nitrogen the organism requires for survival, most of the time, the organism will die. However, if any of the organisms existing enzymes have the slightest ability to enhance reactions with the new resource, selection will strongly favor the evolution of the gene that produces that enzyme, and future mutations will further improve the ability of the enzyme to process the new chemical resource at high rate. This approach was successfully used in E. coli to evolve pathways for the use of 1.2 propanediol (5, 6), ethanol (7), glycerol, or lactate (8, 9) as carbon sources.”

    Paper #2:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17113805

    “It is now well documented that when a microorganism is growing under a strong pressure of selection (high temperature, strong substrate limitation, etc.), variants are likely to emerge bearing changes in the DNA sequence that bring about an advantageous change in phenotype. If the selection is being applied to cell growing in liquid, the population with the original phenotype will be rapidly displaced by the variants (Atwood et al., 1951, Dykhuizen, 1990).

    The genetic adaptation of a microorganism under a strong pressure of selection was later used to change the substrate specificities of enzymes for the directed evolution of new functions. The first demonstration of this approach was done by using an Escherichia coli strain with a lacZ deletion and by selecting spontaneous mutants that grow on lactose and other beta-galactoside sugars (Hall and Zuzel, 1980). In all the variants, the target of the evolution was the ebgA gene where point mutations in the structural gene alter the enzyme so that it hydrolyzes lactose, or lactulose or galactosylarabinose or lactobionic acid (Hall, 1981).

    More recently, experiments have demonstrated that organisms are capable of evolving whole new metabolic pathways. The most common experimental process is to put a microorganism in a novel environment that contains a chemical that the organism has not been exposed to in the past. If that new chemical is the sole source of carbon or nitrogen the organism requires for survival, most of the time, the organism will die. However, if any of the organisms existing enzymes have the slightest ability to enhance reactions with the new resource, selection will strongly favor the evolution of the gene that produces that enzyme, and future mutations will further improve the ability of the enzyme to process the new chemical resource at high rate. This approach was successfully used in E. coli to evolve pathways for the use of propylene glycol (Lu et al., 1998) or ethanol (Membrillo-Hernandez et al., 2000) as carbon sources.”

    M.E.

    March 12, 2012 at 7:20 pm

  21. COPE came and went just when the pot was melting on their side…

    Rafa

    March 12, 2012 at 8:15 pm

  22. I think one issue which is being overlooked in the email from Wiley is the sheer number of requests to investigate being submitted. If they have the resources to look at 10 complaints, and they receive 20 requests the only option is to be selective with investigations or employ more people at more cost to the community with submission fees etc. Its one thing to send a quick email saying “I think these images are the same”, it is quite something else to have to contact authors, obtain uncropped original images, compare them objectively etc. In addition, as mentioned in the letter from Roy Kaufman, of those investigated from Clare Francis a large proportion (in Wiley case all) are incorrect allegations. Why keep investigating when it seems the case that most are spurious? The costs of investigating all those allegations are then passed on to the community.

    One final thing to note is that all journals take fraud allegations seriously, including anonymous allegations. The sheer volume of incorrect allegations, the often dismissive tone of the emails received and the indignation expressed when journals investigate but do not end up with the same conclusion as Clare Francis means many journals are now starting to ignore Clare Francis specifically. It should be remembered that an allegation is just that until proven, and Clare Francis is not judge, jury and executioner.

    Micheal

    September 8, 2013 at 6:30 am

    • “In addition, as mentioned in the letter from Roy Kaufman, of those investigated from Clare Francis a large proportion (in Wiley case all) are incorrect allegations.”

      He is employed by Wiley. Why take his word?

      It is not a trial.

      david hardman

      September 8, 2013 at 7:40 am

      • “If they have the resources to look at 10 complaints, and they receive 20 requests the only option is to be selective with investigations or employ more people at more cost to the community with submission fees etc.”

        Revenue 1.8 billion dollars a year. Page 12.

        http://www.wiley.com/legacy/about/corpnews/FY12_10K.pdf

        They could take a haircut.

        david hardman

        September 8, 2013 at 7:58 am


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