Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Misconduct burns authors of wax paper, leads to sharply worded retraction notice

with 11 comments

Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A is retracting a 2010 paper whose authors misappropriated data, forged an author name — and got a pretty strong backhand slap for the trouble.

The paper, “Green waxes, adhesives and lubricants,” which refers to eco-friendly materials, not Halloween-friendly slimes, was published by a group of researchers from China and Canada. Problem was, the one from Canada evidently didn’t know she was listed on the manuscript, and a big chunk of the work had been misappropriated from her university.

As the notice explains:

Subsequent to publication of the above paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, the publisher was made aware that the wax section of this review was significantly similar to an internal report prepared by Prof. Suresh Narine, Dr Shaojun Li and Dr Laziz Bouzidi at the University of Alberta. No permission to use this internal report, which was used in a major (funded) grant application to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and various industrial partners, and forms part of a major patent on lubricants (filed in 2010 with the US Patent Office), was sought or provided and the authors did not have the right to publish or disclose this content and neither claim nor hold any rights, property, moral or otherwise, on or in this content.

The authors agree to retract the paper in its entirety and apologize to the report authors, the reviewers, editors and readers of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A for any adverse consequences that may have resulted from the paper’s publication.

We also note that Dr X. H. Kong was erroneously listed and included as an author. The University of Alberta, after review, found and confirms that neither Dr X. H. Kong nor any other University of Alberta employee was involved in the preparation or publication of the above paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

The letter is signed by first author Wen Li, of Huangshi Institute of Technology, and the paper has only been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We haven’t seen the “moral or otherwise” clause in a retraction notice before, but it shows up in this treatise on copyright in Canada:

Moral rights are essentially non-economic rights intended to protect the author from any distortion, mutilation or other modification of her work(s) that is prejudicial to her honour or reputation …

Similarly:

Moral rights, with possible variations from one legislation to another, relate to the right to be credited or mentioned as the author of the work, the right to decide if the work might be disseminate, if it will be disseminated with the real name or pseudonym, the right to enforce the integrity of the creation, the right to withdraw the work of trade, right to retract or repent, right to access to the unique copy …

The Alberta group, except Kong, is now at Trent University. Bouzidi told us that he and his colleagues discovered the misuse of their data when they saw the paper upon publication. According to Bouzidi, two of the authors had been research associates for Narine (who was profiled last year in the Globe & Mail), and thus “had access to everything” in the lab — everything, that is, except permission to publish the data.

We think this might be the patent application mentioned in the retraction notice (although we’re not sure). It states:

The present invention relates generally to polymers and monomers derived from agricultural feedstocks, and more particularly to methods for the production of monomers from renewable agricultural resources such as feedstocks, for example canola, flax and tallow, and polymers, in particular polyurethanes produced from monomers derived from such feedstocks. The present invention also relates to novel processes for the production of short-chain alcohols, as well as hydroxyl wax esters, from renewable feedstocks. An improved apparatus for carrying out ozonolysis reactions is also disclosed.

Narine is something of an entrepreneur. He is chairman of the board of a company called CGX Energy, which is trying to exploit oil and gas reserves in Narine’s home country of Guyana. And, according to this press release, he is up for a seat on the board of Takara Resources, a Canadian company that is looking for gold in Guyana.

Hat tip: Clare Francis

Comments
  • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

    This retraction explanation makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. The retraction notice makes the following statement: “We also note that Dr X. H. Kong was erroneously listed and included as an author. The University of Alberta, after review, found and confirms that neither Dr X. H. Kong nor any other University of Alberta employee was involved in the preparation or publication of the above paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.”

    On the paper being retracted, X. H. Kong is listed as the CORRESPONDING AUTHOR (i.e., “*Author for correspondence (xkong@ualberta.ca).”), and the published article (now retracted, but which can still be downloaded outside a paywall with the retraction notice appendixed) includes Kong’s University of Alberta e-mail address. So, how do we get to the stage whereby an article is published at this journal with an author using both a University of Alberta e-mail address and a mailing address, and apparently the individual at the University of Alberta was not “involved in the preparation or publication of the above paper in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A”? Wouldn’t the journal send an e-mail or letter to the so-called corresponding author following submission of the original manuscript, the revisions (if any), and/or once acceptance had occurred? After all, this journal apparently uses the ScholarOne Manuscripts system.

    We apparently need far more details as to how this scenario claimed in the retraction notice possibly happened.

  • Toby White June 22, 2012 at 11:00 am

    Perhaps I’m being obtuse, but isn’t the “erroneously listed” Dr. Kong named as the corresponding author? If she was not involved in preparation or publication, just how did this paper appear in Phil. Trans.?

    • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Not obtuse at all. This is the absolutely blazingly obvious question that needs to be answered formally and immediately by representatives of the University of Alberta.

  • Canadian June 22, 2012 at 11:17 am

    “The Albert group, … ” should be Alberta

    • ivanoransky June 22, 2012 at 11:18 am

      Fixed — thanks.

  • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Another question from this suspicious event. In the article below the list of author names and in the affiliations section, why isn’t there any mention of the University of Alberta, but yet at the bottom of the page, the second and corresponding author (X. H. Kong) is listed as corresponding with a University of Alberta e-mail. Wouldn’t this raise a major red flag for editors and/or reviewers, and the publisher?

  • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I don’t think the patent linked to above is the correct one. It dates from 2007, whereas the retraction notice refers to a 2010 application at the USPTO. This may be the correct patent under discussion: Suresh S. Narine,Shaojun Li, Ali Mahdevari, Laziz Bouzidi, Steve DiBiase and Syed Abbas. U.S. Patent Application (filed February, 2011) “Esters for use as a base stock and in lubricant applications”. Narine lists his patents on his website: http://www.trentu.ca/biomaterials/publications.php.

    • chirality June 22, 2012 at 12:26 pm

      So maybe they realized that publishing this stuff in 2010 rendered its patent protection in 2011 impossible, hence the retraction.

      • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 12:33 pm

        I don’t think retracting the article gets around the prior publication components mitigating against subsequent IP protection. The article text is still freely available online and is readable, so a retraction at this point appears mainly for academic purposes.

      • chirality June 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm

        My comment was about the authors’ possible motivation, no matter how misguided. The corresponding author’s claim that he was unaware of the manuscript being submitted also defies common sense.

  • Sierra Rayne June 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    From a review of Narine’s publication record, it appears that Wen Li and Xiaohua Kong are the “research associates for Narine” that Bouzidi is referring to. Apparently Kong is still at the University of Alberta as a Research Associate in the Lipid Chemistry group: http://www.lipid.ualberta.ca/en/People/XiaohuaKong.aspx

    And Kong’s e-mail address on her University of Alberta webpage is the same as on the retracted article.

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