An ecology researcher in the Congo has found himself at the center of a plagiarism scandal that has felled seven of his papers.
As Science reports today, Serge Valentin Pangou’s work began unraveling in August 2011 after Wageningen University ecologist Patrick Jansen thought a paper he’d been asked to review for the International Journal of Biodiversity and Conservation seemed familiar — because he’d written many of the same words in a 2007 paper in Conservation Biology. He ran the manuscript through the plagiarism detection software Turnitin, and sure enough, it was about 90% identical.
Unfortunately for Pangou, Jansen’s co-author on the Conservation Biology paper was Pierre-Michel Forget, whose father, as Science notes, “was a well-known private detective in France.” Forget and Jansen took a careful look at a number of Pangou’s papers,
concluding that at least nine of them, published between 2006 and 2011, were plagiarized in whole or in part. An investigation by Science supports Forget’s conclusions and also finds that some of Pangou’s co-authors were unaware that their names were used.
Read the Science report for details on the responses by the journals involved, which varied greatly in their speed. According to Science:
Pangou tells Science that he accepts “all of the responsibility” for the papers that have already been withdrawn, but he contends that he did not deliberately engage in plagiarism, chalking it up to “the abusive utilization of bibliograph[ies]” which he “regrets sincerely.” He did, however, admit to Science that he added some authors to papers without their knowledge.
The story is moving so quickly, in fact, that the number of retractions grew from four to seven in the time between when reporter Michael Balter filed it and it published today — and we understand there may be more in the works. Here are the papers that have either been retracted or whose editors have agreed to retract, Forget tells Retraction Watch:
- “Effects of Soil Properties on Growth of Young Tree Seedling in Logged-over Tropical Rain Forest in Mayombe, Congo,” published in 2011 in the American Journal of Plant Sciences (not yet marked as retracted)
- “Evaluation of high-value indigenous trees for the rehabilitation of deforested areas in Mayombe Rain Forest, Southern Congo,” published in 2011 in the International Research Journal of Plant Science (removed from the journal’s site)
- “Meaning of tree size on the reproductive phenology in Pterocarpus soyauxii Taubert (Fabaceae) in Mayombe rain forest, Congo,” published in 2011 in the International Research Journal of Agricultural Science and Soil Science (removed from the journal’s site)
- “Comparison between field performance of cuttings and seedlings of Carapa procera D.C. (Meliaceae),” published in 2011 in the International Research Journal of Plant Science (removed from the journal’s site)
- “Tree selection for fruit/seed production in Carapa procera D.C. from wild stands in the rain forest of Congo,” published in 2011 in the International Research Journal of Plant Science (removed from the journal’s site)
- “Evaluation of seed rain from remnant trees in fields for food crops in the tropical wet forest of Mayombe (Central Congo),” published in Candollea in 2009 (removed from the journal’s site)
- “Characteristic of natural regeneration of Aucoumea klaineana (Pierre) in Mayombe rain forest, southern Congo,” published in the African Journal of Ecology in 2006 and not yet cited by any other papers, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge
Of note, five of the papers in question appeared in journals published by International Research Journals, a company that Jeffrey Beall has included in his list of “predatory open access publishers.” Here’s what he had to say about the company:
Another Nigeria-based operation, this publisher is notable (in a negative way) for its interesting journal issue covers (most are created from pirated photographs), and for the Gmail addresses its employees all use. The absurd banner on its main page shows a picture of part of a duckling swimming in a lake.
Those journals removed the papers from their sites altogether, which is not considered best practice by the Committee on Publication Ethics and others.
(At the risk of sounding like uncultured Americans, we should admit that we had a chuckle at Forget’s name, as in “he’s trying to make scientists forget about Pangou’s work,” or “Pangou would just as soon forget about Forget.” But we realize the words aren’t pronounced the same way, and we are hardly trying to make light of what Forget is doing here — it’s quite important.)