Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Another retraction for grad student who specializes in plagiarism and forging co-authors’ names

without comments

We have an update on the case of Moêz Smiri, a graduate student working in a Tunisian-French laboratory, whose bold method of bulking up his CV  proved a bit trop ambitieux. 

As we reported back in August 2011, Smiri had plagiarized repeatedly from previously-published work, and forged the names of co-authors, in a 2010 article in Plant Science on the effects of cadmium on peas. That article was one of at least six papers on which Smiri appeared as first author — a pretty impressive output for a young researcher.

Among the list was article in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, “Effect of cadmium on resumption of respiration in cotyledons of germinating pea seeds.” That paper is now retracted. According to the notice:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Former Editor-in-Chief and co-authors.

The article includes content plagiarised from articles that have already appeared in the following journals.

1. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., Redox regulation of the glutathione reductase/iso-glutaredoxin system in germinating pea seed exposed to cadmium. Plant Sci. 179 (2010) 423–436, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.plantsci.2010.06.015.

2. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Kamel, C., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., Cadmium induced mitochondrial redox changes in germinating pea seed. BioMetals, 23 (2010) 973–984, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10534-010-9344-y.

3. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., Effect of cadmium on resumption of respiration in cotyledons of germinating pea seeds. Ecotox. Environ. Safe., 73 (2010) 1246–1254, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoenv.2010.05.015.

4. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., Cadmium Affects the Glutathione/Glutaredoxin System in Germinating Pea Seeds. Biol. Trace Elem. Res., 142 (2010) 93–105, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12011-010-8749-3.

5. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., Oxidative damage and redox change in pea seeds treated with cadmium. C.R. Biol., 333 (2010) 801–807, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.crvi.2010.09.002.

6. Smiri, M., Chaoui, A., Rouhier, N., Gelhaye, E., Jacquot, J.P., El Ferjani, E., NAD pattern and NADH oxidase activity in pea (Pisum sativum L.) under cadmium toxicity. Physiol. Mol. Biol. Plants, 16 (2010) 305–315, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12298-010-0033-7.

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.

(We’re not sure why the notice cites the retracted article as a source of the lifted information, but we’re guessing that was an error and not a meta-point about plagiarism. Along the same lines, #6 on the list is one of the two studies that has cited the now-retracted paper. Duplicating a paper that hadn’t yet been published would of course require time travel a la Back to the Future.)

Since his 2010 burst of productivity, Smiri seems to have slowed down substantially. However, his name does appear in a 2012 paper in Pathophysiology, “Antihyperglycemic, antihyperlipidemic and antioxidant activities of traditional aqueous extract of Zygophyllum album in streptozotocin diabetic mice.”

Written by amarcus41

July 18th, 2012 at 9:37 am

Comments
  • R. Grant Steen July 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    We seem to be conflating terms here… I would argue that you can’t plagiarize yourself, though you can have a duplicate publication (in whole or in part). It seems to me that the word “plagiarism” ought to reserved for word theft from someone else. Data theft from someone else is, of course, fabrication.

    • GhostOfSciencePast July 18, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      … I would disagree, as I have often heard the concept of “self-plagiarism” discussed, in scientific ethics courses and the like. It is definitely regarded as a lower-level offense than plagiarizing someone else’s work, and it hinges on a technicality. While the author may have written the original work, and collected the original data, the act of publication usually (although not always) transfers the copyright on that manuscript and the data therein to the publisher, so that if it is submitted to another publisher, the act of publishing the new (self-plagiarized) paper would be copyright infringement, and is therefore regarded as a type of plagiarism.

      So, in short, self-plagiarism is a type of plagiarism, but since it represents only a subset of plagiarism, it probably doesn’t merit the blanket term “plagiarism,” but rather the specific “self-plagiarism.”

    • JudyH July 19, 2012 at 12:06 am

      I agree with R. Grant Steen. Plagiarism is word theft from someone else.

      Copyright infringement and plagiarism are not at all the same thing.

      Copyright is a legal term that can be separated from authorship. Copyright is the right to permit something to be “distributed” meaning re-published or sold in multiple copies. You can own the copyright to something that you did not write. You can sell or give away the copyright to something that you did write, and the result is that you no longer have control over how many copies can be printed or who can print them. Often there is money associated with copyright. You can insist on being paid a royalty for every copy that is sold, if you own the right to permit the item to be copied and sold. You can also forbid people from printing and giving away copies for free, if you own the copyright, so money is not the only thing involved in copyright (although it often comes into play in cases of copyright violation).

      Plagiarism is an ethics term that has everything to do with authorship. It is plagiarism to claim that you wrote something that you did not write. Regardless of whether you hold the copyright and can therefore give or deny permission to print copies, you cannot (ethically) claim to be the author if you are not the author. There is no legal punishment for plagiarism. The legal penalty is for copyright infringement (see above). Plagiarism is an ethical violation that is punished in various ways by many institutions, such as book publishers, but it is not the kind of infraction for which you find yourself in court. The punishment is likely to be a loss of reputation, a loss of job, and the withdrawal of the plagiarized work from circulation when this is practical, but not a stay in the pokey or a court judgment ordering you to pay money to the injured party. If the copyright on something has expired and it has entered the public domain, you can publish it without asking for permission, but you will commit an ethical violation if you claim to be the author of it. You must credit the real author.

      Copyrighting your work is a way to help protect yourself against plagiarism (or at least to ease the process of inflicting a financial penalty on the violator of copyright). The plagiarism itself is not punished — only the copyright violation is punished.

      Self-plagiarism, in my opinion, is a nonsensical word that should be replaced by “duplicate publication” or some such thing. When you repeat words that you originally wrote, you are still the original author. You do not dishonestly claim to be the author of another person’s words when you repeat your own words. You may be violating a copyright if you have sold or given away the copyright to your phrases as part of the process of getting published, as often is the case with scientific journals and with writing for pay.

      I am entertained by the spectacle of academic authors trying to avoid writing, especially when their rationale is that their earlier output is so perfect as to release them from future creative effort. Very few journal articles are so well phrased that deviation from the structure represents a descent from the pinnacle of perfection. Nearly everything in scientific writing can be re-worded without loss of sublime form. We must look to literature before we find written expressions so perfect that any change constitutes a degradation.

      Scientists used to look upon writing as the most exalted aspect of scientific inquiry. Regardless of who did the work (and very often underlings did all of the work, a circumstance which was disguised by the passive voice in the final written product), the man (it was almost always a man) who wrote the manuscript got the credit. This lopsided credit for one aspect of the total effort was justified on the grounds that intellectual understanding and intellectual communication were the heart of science, while any Tom, Dick, or Harry could carry out the tedious, supposedly nonintellectual process of collecting data. So why are scientists now trying to weasel out of the honorable, intellectual task of writing? Surely the ability to approach a topic intelligently from several different directions over the course of several different papers demonstrates an understanding of the subject and an ability to write cogently about it. (Thank goodness we now know that not just any Tom, Dick, or Harry plucked from the street can carry out experiments correctly, and we recognize the contribution of participants with names on the authorship line in addition to the name of the person who wrote down the words.)

  • Michael Kovari July 19, 2012 at 11:13 am

    There is NO SUCH THING as self-plagiarism. Redundant publication (saying the same thing in more than one publication) is a violation of journal policies, but not of scientific ethics. Copyright infringement (using words whose copyright belongs to someone else, even if you wrote them to start with) is against the law, but of no conceivable concern to scientific ethics.

    Introducing the concept of self-plagiarism as some sort of heinous act has only one purpose – to punish innocent people.

    • JudyH July 20, 2012 at 10:33 am

      I believe redundant publication IS a violation of scientific ethics, but of a different sort than inventing data points, changing data points, making unsupported conclusions, and so forth. Redundant publication falsely inflates the publication record of the scientist and may mislead others about the volume of data that supports a conclusion. Half a dozen experiments conducted separately that all reach the same conclusion provide a measure of confirmation. The same experiment published half a dozen times is just one experiment. The attempt to profit from scientific endeavors in a way that presents a false picture and may even distort our scientific knowledge is a violation of scientific ethics.

      I agree with part of what you say, in that the repetition of one’s own words is not a heinous act and the copyright violation is a legal matter unrelated to scientific truth. In addition, some might argue that the scientist in this case is only playing the career game using his own valid data. But the pretense that this author has half a dozen publications, suggesting that he did half a dozen projects and discovered half a dozen truths worthy of dissemination, is one form of scientific dishonesty.

      Suppose that a writer of bodice-rippers tries to advance his/her career by mailing the same manuscript off to six different publishers under six different titles (Circle of Fire, Desire Knows No Boundaries, Fulfillment Forever, Two Globes to Conquer, Nature Can Never Be Tamed, and Even in the Smallest Town), not bothering to change the color of the heroine’s eyes or the details of her background, and all six manuscripts get published. Is this author “innocent”?

  • GhostOfSciencePast July 19, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Perhaps I was not clear originally; self-plagiarism is certainly a much, much lesser offense than typical plagiarism. Whether it is justified or not depends largely on the context, etc. It is one of the grey areas that makes for interesting discussions in scientific ethics courses, as views can vary widely. Clearly, the other views expressed in the other comments here vary substantially from my own.

    But, Michael, it does exist:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism#Self-plagiarism

    As the above wikipedia article points out (although not a wonderfully reliable source), the JIBS ethics code deals with this explicitly (document available at http://www.palgrave-journals.com/jibs/jibs_ethics_code.html, accessed on the day of this post). An excerpt of this discussion is included below:

    “Redundancy (or “self-plagiarism”) is unacceptable publishing behavior. Redundancy can occur in at least two ways: (1) Authors recycle portions of their previous writings by using identical or nearly identical sentences or paragraphs from earlier writings in subsequent research papers, without quotation or acknowledgement; or (2) Authors create multiple papers that are slight variations on each other, which are submitted for publication in different journals but without acknowledgement of the other papers. Authors can and often do develop different aspects of an argument in more than one manuscript. However, manuscripts that differ primarily in appearance, but are presented as separate and distinct research without acknowledging other related work, constitute attempts (whether unintentional or deliberate) to deceive reviewers and readers by overinflating the intellectual contribution of the manuscript. Since publication decisions are influenced by the novelty and innovativeness of manuscripts, such deception is inappropriate and unethical.”

    However, as JudyH pointed out, yes, I was conflating plagiarism with copyright infringement, and one is an ethical issue, the other a legal one. My apologies for this error. It is interesting, though, that someone could argue that by venturing into this ethical grey area, they hadn’t necessary overstepped their scientific ethics, but could still be prosecuted. While it is ethically a grey area, legally it is not–and so those who commit self-plagiarism are not actually “innocent,” as Michael would like to believe.

    So, while I would not say that I am adamantly opposed to self-plagiarism, and I don’t believe it merits the same punishment as typical plagiarism, I do acknowledge it as an ethical grey area. In my own work, I would rather synthesize new phrasing than unnecessarily venture into this type of grey area, but that’s a judgement call that I think is open to each person on an individual basis.

  • Dr. Moêz November 8, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    Dear Editor-in-Chief of Plant Science / Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety,
    Please See the content of manuscripts: two different metabolic pathways: respiration and redox regulation (different systems). I used different research methods, iI obtained different results using samples from pea. The objectives are difference. I don’t understand why you consider those articles plagiarism.

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