The January 2012 issue of Biosystems Engineering has a commendably thorough retraction notice regarding a case of plagiarism in its pages.
The notice, regarding the article “Advanced techniques for Weed and crop identification for site specific Weed management,” by Karan Singh, K.N. Agrawal, and Ganesh C. Bora, of North Dakota State University, speaks for itself:
This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy)
This article has been retracted at the request of the journal editors.
It has been brought to the attention of the editors that this review paper has been constructed, in substantial part, by verbatim copying of paragraphs etc. from papers that had already been published in scientific journals. The copied papers include:
Gee, C., Bossu, J., Jones, G., and Truchetet, F. (2008). Crop/weed discrimination in perspective agronomic images. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 60(1), 49–59. doi:10.1016/j.compag.2007.06.003
Longchamps, L., Panneton, B., Samson, G., Leroux, G. D., and Thériault, R. (2009). Discrimination of corn, grasses and dicot weeds by their UV-induced fluorescence spectral signature. Precision Agriculture, 11(2), 181–197. doi:10.1007/s11119-009-9126-0
Manh, A.-G., Rabatel, G., Assemat, L. and Aldon, M. -J. (2001). Weed leaf image segmentation by deformable templates. Journal of Agricultural Engineering Research, 80(2), 139–146. doi:10.1006/jaer.2001.0725
Okamoto, H., Murata, T., Kataoka, T., and Hata, S. (2006). Plant classification for weed detection using hyperspectral imaging with wavelet analysis. Weed Biology and Management, 7, 31–37. doi:10.1111/j.1445-6664.2006.00234.x
Piron, A., Leemans, V., Kleynen, O., Lebeau, F., and Destain, M.-F. (2008). Selection of the most efficient wavelength bands for discriminating weeds from crop. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 62, 141–148. doi:10.1016/j.compag.2007.12.007
Tellaeche, A., Burgos Artizzu, X. P., Pajares, G., Ribeiro, A. and Fernández-Quintanilla, C. (2008). A new vision-based approach to differential spraying in precision agriculture. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, 60, 144–155 (authors incorrectly listed by Singh et al by forenames not family names). doi:10.1016/j.compag.2007.07.008
Wang, N., Zhang, N., Wei, J., Stoll, Q., and Peterson, D. E. (2007). A real-time, embedded, weed-detection system for use in wheat fields. Biosystems Engineering, 98(3), 276–285. doi:10.1016/j.biosystemseng.2007.08.007
The editors apologise to the authors and publishers of all papers copied and to the journal’s readers for the inappropriate publication of this paper. One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. 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.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the same issue of the journal also has an editorial decrying the “on-going problem” of plagiarism.
The editorialists, including editor in chief Bill Day, state:
Plagiarism, the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own, and its ancillary self-plagiarism, in which individuals republish work that they have already published, represent significant challenges to scientific journals. Authors have a right to be acknowledged as the source of their own work, and new authors must present their work in their own words. For more details and examples, readers are encouraged to look at the website of the Committee on Publication Ethics at www.publicationethics.org.
The answers to two questions that are regularly raised with the editors of Biosystems Engineering may help explain some of the problems: firstly, “Can conference papers be published in the journal?” and secondly, “Surely the words of the original author are the best way to express the science I need to quote in my paper?”
This journal has traditionally been prepared to consider publishing papers that are developed from work published at scientific conferences – with the proviso that the journal paper must be of greater depth and breadth in its science, and repetition must be minimised. Conference papers are publications – though they may be less accessible, they have been made available to the scientific community, and increasingly are distributed electronically and placed on the Internet. However, this is apparently not always understood. Papers have been submitted that are nearly identical to a conference paper, sometimes openly acknowledging the conference paper but sometimes not even referring to it. Such extreme examples of self-plagiarism are a form of redundant publication. It is not acceptable practice, and such papers will be rejected when detected.
In principle, journals expect papers to be written in the author’s own words. It is their interpretation of the science that is important, and using their own words demonstrates understanding, so significant strings of words should not appear from other published works. Of course some repetition will arise by chance and some because standard phrases or descriptions of equipment or methods need to be reused. However this is not a justification for extracting text from the introduction, review, results or discussion of other papers. If it is important to use the actual words of another author, they should be put in quotation marks and be clearly referenced.
The availability of software tools like iThenticate has made it possible to quantify the extent to which text from previously published papers has been copied. Where the copying of significant amounts of text is detected during the review process, authors may be contacted and asked to amend their text where appropriate. If the extent of copying compromises the integrity of the submission as new work, the paper will be rejected. Occasionally it is discovered that a paper that has been published in the journal includes extensive plagiarised text. In such cases the editors will challenge the authors and will, where appropriate, issue a correction or retract the paper. Retracting papers is not undertaken lightly, but it is important for the journal and its authors that we maintain the highest standards for this publication.
The swift retraction — the now-withdrawn paper was published in May of this year — seems to have prevented the plagiarists from stealing any credit for their “work.” The paper hasn’t been yet been cited, while the oldest of the papers it plagiarized has been cited 41 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.