We have long (well, for the past two years) wondered about the pitfalls of publishing in one’s own journal, and here’s a case that illustrates precisely how fraught that practice can be.
The journal Microfluidics and Nanofluidics has retracted a 2010 article, titled “Induced-charge electrokinetic phenomena,” by Dongqing Li and Yasaman Daghighi, of the University of Waterloo in Canada, for what appears to be extensive misappropriation of text and data.
As the notice explains:
The article has been retracted by request of the authors. Unaltered text was taken from a pre-published version of Bazant MZ, Squires TM (2010) Induced-charge electrokinetic phenomena. Curr Opin Colloid Interface Sci 15(2010) 203–213. Moreover, a few reproduced figures from other published articles lack appropriate references. The authors apologize for their negligence.
The paper has been cited five times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, including by another paper on which Daghighi and Li are co-authors.
In 2010, Li, who holds a prestigious “Canada Research Chair (Tier 1)” at Waterloo, was the top editor of Micro/Nano — a journal he founded. Daghighi was then his graduate student, and it’s pretty easy to see him assuring her of a plum publication. What’s less clear is how either of the authors might have gotten their hands on a pre-publication version of a paper that appeared in a different journal.
In any event, Li eventually stepped down from the editorship of the journal — voluntarily, we’re told — but managed to keep his name on the masthead as a member of the editorial board. The interim editor, Roland Zengerle, has not responded to our request for comment. Similarly, we spoke to a couple of Li’s fellow board members but could not get a comment on the record.
Waterloo has been tight-lipped about the case. Pearl Sullivan, chair of Li’s department, said the university conducted its own investigation into the paper but said the conclusions were
private information. It’s something we’re dealing with.
We asked whether Daghighi was solely to blame for the episode, to which Sullivan replied:
It’s a bit more complicated than that. It’s not a binary answer.
Sullivan said that Daghighi was still employed at Waterloo, to her knowledge, although we could not reach her for comment.
Bruce Mitchell, the school’s associate provost, responded to our request for an interview with the rather terse:
I am away from Waterloo on holidays, so am unavailable.
We figured that wasn’t an auto-reply, since the message came many hours after we’d initially emailed him (and we got silence to follow-up messages).
What’s interesting is that Mitchell is a staunch public advocate of academic good conduct. In the wake of a 2010 doping scandal that cost the school’s football team an entire season, his office launched an aggressive pro-integrity campaign. That includes online tutorials, videos and other materials, along with quotations from Waterloo students such as this:
Your degree is worth more if it’s from a school where rules against cheating are enforced. But there are grey areas where it’s not clear what is acceptable and what is not. Teachers need to take responsibility to provide clarification. Sometimes students help each other because they do not think that the teacher is available. Also, students are more likely to commit academic offenses when they are under pressure to get ahead, to meet deadlines, to get the grades they need etc. A lot depends on good contact with the teacher.”
We particularly liked this YouTube interview Mitchell conducted with the CBC and posted in April 2012:
As he states:
Our view is that integrity is something that everybody should have some interest and ownership of ….
Getting back to our first point, we’re curious what RW readers think about editors who publish their own studies in their own journals. Should “don’t print where you eat” be a new rule of thumb? Take our poll: