Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Slew of retractions appears in Neuroscience Letters

with 17 comments

We’re not sure how many you need for a “slew,” but we’ve seen five retractions in Neuroscience Letters recently, most of them because researchers republished translations of papers in English, so we thought we’d round them up in a post.

We’ll start the count — appropriately, we think — with the notice for “Simple mental arithmetic is not so simple: An ERP study of the split and odd–even effects in mental arithmetic“, published in February by researchers from Nanjing Normal University in China:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal(http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Authors.

The article substantially duplicates, without citation, results published in Chinese in Acta Psychol. Sinica, 43 (2011) 384–395, http://dx.doi.org/10.3724/SP.J.1041.2011.00384.The Authors wish to apologize to readers for their error.

The authors of the Acta Psychol. Sinica paper are the same as those of the Neuroscience Letters study, so this is duplication, not plagiarism. The math actually seems quite simple, in hindsight: One paper plus another duplicated paper equals one retraction.

Speaking of subtraction, here’s the notice for “Influence of cognitive strategies on the pattern of cortical activation during mental subtraction. A functional imaging study in human subjects,” cited 36 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of the authors.

The article is a substantial duplication/translation into English of the original in French originally published in J. Neuroradiol., 1999, 26, 1S59–1S65. The authors would like to apologize for this administrative error on their part.

Here’s the notice for “Effects of electro-acupuncture on NT-4 expression in spinal dorsal root ganglion and associated segments of the spinal dorsal horn in cats subjected to adjacent dorsal root ganglionectomy,” published in 2009 by researchers from Kunming Medical College, Anhui Provincial Hospital, and Weifang Medical College, all in China:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).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

The article is a substantial duplication/re-working of results published by the some of the Authors in Sichuan Da Zue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban 36 (2005) 625–629 and without citation to the original work. The authors would like to apologize for this error on their part.

The paper has been cited 4 times.

Another paper, “Effect of ephedrine on neuronal plasticity of hypoxic-ischemic brain damage in neonatal rats,” which has been cited twice, fell for similar reasons:

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 Editor-in-Chief.

The article substantially duplicates in English results published in Chinese in Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi 32 (August (16)) (2007) 1684–1687. One of the conditions of submission of an article for publication is that authors declare explicitly that the article and/or its main results have not been published, nor are under consideration for publication, elsewhere. 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 were perhaps most interested in the withdrawal of “Chewing during chronic stress ameliorates stress-induced suppression of neurogenesis in the hippocampal dentate gyrus in aged SAMP8 mice,” published earlier this year by a group of researchers from medical and dental schools in Japan, including the “Nittai Jusei Medical College for Judo Therapeutics.” That notice says only:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author(s) and/or editor. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.

The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy

Neuroscience Letters editor Stephen Waxman tells Retraction Watch:

We investigated a large number of articles brought to our attention by an external party, found a handful of problems, some of which resulted in retractions and others in Corrigenda. The Kubo article, however, was not one of those articles. That was rather a separate withdrawn paper that came at the request of the author who discovered a mistake in his methodology post-acceptance. Specifically, he said he found a mistake in the method he used to calculate the survival rate of newborn cells. The paper was published on Science Direct as an AIP but was never printed, and has been since withdrawn.

Comments
  • chirality September 20, 2012 at 11:05 am

    They probably got busted because abstracts of non-English papers are translated into English for indexing purposes – somebody must have noticed the pairs of papers with virtually identical abstracts. When they intended to re-publish their papers in English, it would have been enough to modify the abstracts prior to their translation. It would have been a perfect crime or, more precisely, a perfect administrative error.

  • Toby September 20, 2012 at 11:10 am

    Why would one wish to publish in a language other than English? This is a tricky one. As an author whose mother tongue is not that of Shakespeare, I find that publishing in Spanish (my language) would be a waste of time if I want people to read about my findings. A historical example of this is at the origin of the Georges Lemaitre-Edwin Hubble controversy. American astronomer Hubble proposed in 1929 the concept for an expanding universe. Two years before Lemaitre, however, a Belgian astronomer had published a study reaching the same conclusion but was completely ignored as it had been published en Français. Lemaitre results became known after the Journal of Royal Astronomical Society published a translation of his work (Would a retraction be in order here!?). Anyway we have now a Hubble telescope but I have not heard yet of a Lemaitre one.

    I think the moral must be: publish in English if you do not want your results to end up in the bin. It adds a difficulty for those who, like me, are not native speakers (writers) but it will give you visibility both in your country and the international arena…….and you would be doing the right thing by not fraudulently duplicating your number of papers published!

  • puzzled monkey (Conrad T Seitz MD) September 20, 2012 at 11:45 am

    Question: if one does not read Chinese, would the abstract (in English) be sufficiently interesting to have the full paper translated? Or would it be easier to surf the abstracts?
    OR: how does one get the desired information? Unless it is available in one’s own language, there are significant barriers. Is it OK to publish a paper in one’s native language, then publish a version in English with appropriate citations? Or is it “wrong” even when it is specifically acknowledged? (How could it be “wrong”?)
    There was (50 yr ago) an attitude that students should take a foreign language, specifically French, German, and/or Russian, in order to read scientific papers in other languages. At that time, the idea that Japanese or Chinese would be one of the languages needed did not occur to those who set attitudes.
    At the same time, it was thought that students should avoid an English-centered attitude, “broaden one’s horizons” and so on. However, now that scientific research is conducted by people whose first language may be any of a hundred or so different ones; and “everybody speaks English” (at least a little bit), there may not be so much concern about ethnocentrism, and more interest in the benefits of interoperability.
    That would be better, to my mind. Obviously that is an English centered viewpoint; I would love to have everything in Chinese, too(the majority voted for this), but that would take about five years for me to get comfortable, so there is some down time involved there. I wouldn’t mind, but I have some nagging doubt as to whether everyone would go along with me and change everything to pictographs.

  • SG September 20, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    It might be better, for now, if the foreign language journals republished the English versions themselves. They would have to do it without giving a second citation but it should be doable. Maybe as a supplement? How else would one publish a translation of a paper for the wider community to read?

  • crystallographer September 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I suspect there may be political pressure in some countries to publish in the native language?

  • JudyH September 20, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    There is, indeed, much pressure to publish in English, partly for the visibility and partly for the high impact factor. China and Japan are being very hard-nosed about this. Graduate students must publish in English if they want a top-notch job after they get a degree. I have edited several manuscripts for friends who are determined to get into English-language journals. To my mind, the situation is ridiculous, but there is no telling national governments what their goals should be and how they should achieve those goals. People can only try their best to conform to the rules as they pursue their careers. Refusing to play the game will only get you kicked out of the competition.

    When Asian governments specified that students must publish in English-language journals, Asian universities quickly developed their own in-house English-language journals in which their own students could publish, thus achieving a high rate of compliance with the official standard of excellence. When this subterfuge was seen through, impact factor was added to the requirement so that guaranteed acceptance by a university’s vanity publishing house would no longer be used as a claim to superior performance. This is no different, in my mind, from journals trying to game the system of impact factor calculation.

    Should scientists in other countries know the rules about not trying to pass off a retread as an additional, original publication? Maybe. But when you don’t read the language well, how much time are you going to spend struggling through the less pertinent paragraphs of the lengthy instructions to authors? And what are the odds that a paper will be accepted if the authors are up-front about the nature of the manuscript? Translations are welcome when something is clearly a breakthrough and everybody is clamoring to read it, but that kind of demand doesn’t exist for the general run of manuscripts. Personally, I would like to see more translations. Science is not living up to its claim to be international when we can’t all read about the research that is being done all over the world. And nobody can learn all the languages that must be learned.

    I can confirm, although I am dating myself to do so, what puzzled monkey says about the situation fifty years ago. Back then, scientists were encouraged to learn a second or even a third language, whatever was most pertinent to their field, in order to keep up with the latest developments. Everybody had to carry some of this burden, since no single language clearly dominated in all fields. Some scientists needed to learn German while others needed to learn French, and so on. But times have changed. During my most recent sojourn through academia, my advisor tried hard to dissuade me from choosing the foreign language option as the pro forma “broadening” component of my curriculum, even though more was published in another language than in English in my area of specialty. I was the last graduate student to slip through with the foreign language option. My department has now formally abolished foreign language as a component of scientific study in graduate school, the rationale being that everything worthwhile is published in English. Of course the validity of this position is more apparent to people who read and speak only English.

    Now, if we all have to learn a single common language, why not choose Spanish or something equally regular? Granted, there will always be certain difficulties associated with any language, for people coming from radically different linguistic backgrounds. But it is silly to choose English, a notoriously difficult language, as the lingua franca, and Chinese is equally difficult. If we can’t find a reasonable common language, let’s get going with translations. And there’s no need to wait while everybody learns whatever common language we pick. Let’s get going with translations in the meantime. Maybe it will turn out that translators can handle the job just fine.

    In addition to the foolish choice of English as the common language, driven by political and economic factors, there is what seems to me an intentional effort to place obstacles in the path of manuscripts that originate from certain countries. Some reviewers might feel that they are doing a service by discouraging the flood of ho-hum submissions from countries where governmental pressure is clearly the only thing driving the frantic submission rate. But I’ve got to tell you, I was amazed that non-native reviewers who could find nothing wrong with content would repeatedly complain about supposedly substandard English in a manuscript that I had scrutinized. The reviewers’ broken-English complaints about the manuscript’s English would have been hilarious were it not for the fact that the science was good and the acceptance meant a lot for somebody’s career. I finally wrote a rather snotty letter (that I hope my friend had the good sense not to pass along to the journal) listing my credentials and suggesting that reviewers who are not native English speakers should be required to leave blank (or mark Not Applicable) the question about whether the manuscript’s English was adequate.

    Oh dear, another treatise instead of a comment. Sorry, but this topic does push my buttons on several fronts.

    • Karen Shashok September 21, 2012 at 4:14 am

      All excellent points! Thanks very much, JudyH.

      ICMJE policy on Acceptable secondary publication, including translation (http://www.icmje.org/publishing_4overlap.html):

      Certain types of articles, such as guidelines produced by governmental agencies and professional organizations, may need to reach the widest possible audience. In such instances, editors sometimes deliberately publish material that is also being published in other journals, with the agreement of the authors and the editors of those journals. Secondary publication for various other reasons, in the same or another language, especially in other countries, is justifiable and can be beneficial provided that the following conditions are met.

      1. The authors have received approval from the editors of both journals (the editor concerned with secondary publication must have a photocopy, reprint, or manuscript of the primary version).

      2. The priority of the primary publication is respected by a publication interval of at least 1 week (unless specifically negotiated otherwise by both editors).

      3. The paper for secondary publication is intended for a different group of readers; an abbreviated version could be sufficient.

      4. The secondary version faithfully reflects the data and interpretations of the primary version.

      5. The footnote on the title page of the secondary version informs readers, peers, and documenting agencies that the paper has been published in whole or in part and states the primary reference. A suitable footnote might read: “This article is based on a study first reported in the [title of journal, with full reference].”

      Permission for such secondary publication should be free of charge.

      6. The title of the secondary publication should indicate that it is a secondary publication (complete republication, abridged republication, complete translation, or abridged translation) of a primary publication. Of note, the NLM does not consider translations to be “republications” and does not cite or index translations when the original article was published in a journal that is indexed in MEDLINE.

      7. Editors of journals that simultaneously publish in multiple languages should understand that NLM indexes the primary language version. When the full text of an article appears in more than one language in a journal issue (such as Canadian journals with the article in both English and French), both languages are indicated in the MEDLINE citation (for example, Mercer K. The relentless challenge in health care. Healthc Manage Forum. 2008 Summer;21(2):4-5. English, French. No abstract available. PMID:18795553.)

      As long as the editors of both the version published first and the secondary version (which could be a full, exact translation, abridged translation or partial translation combined with new material) are notified at the time of submittal that the authors wish to submit a secondary version elsewhere, and as long as both editors approve, there’s no problem.

      PWK points out that, “It should be noted however, that Neuroscience Letters does not have this provision in its Instructions to authors.” This may mean that the authors were not aware that it was against the rules to submit a translation without advising the editor of the fact and of the prior publication in another language.

      One of the retracted articles was published originally in 1999, before the most recent ICMJE update and before journals had clear policies on this. Are the authors being punished for doing something they honestly did not know was wrong at the time? Are they being punished for not having read and understood the journals Instructions or Guidelines? Is retraction fair and reasonable punishment for good-faith attempts to make good research (no actual research fabrication or falsification) available to readers around the world who cannot read the authors’ own first langauge?

      Sometimes authors don’t know when they publish the first version that they will later have an opportunity to publish an English translation. Good science translation is not cheap, and good translators for certain langauge pairs are not easy to find in many places. As long as the authors get permission from the first journal and advise the editor of the second journal that the ms is a translation of a previously published article, there should be no problem.

      Submitting to a local-language journal is considered a good opportunity for young researchers to obtain experience in the review and publication process. Good reasons for publishing in ones local language in addition to whatever language is considered “international” are to keep local practitioners (who may not be fluent in English) informed about results pertinent to their setting, and to allow the general public and the local media access to information relevant to their health, their environment, their economy, etc.

      As JudyH remarks, the lack of reviewer expertise in the English language, good reporting and good writing is indeed an issue: “reviewers who are not native English speakers should be required to leave blank (or mark Not Applicable) the question about whether the manuscript’s English was adequate.” This issue is discussed in my article here (sorry for the self-citation) http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2288/8/3 .

  • PWK September 20, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    As I understand it, there is nothing inherently wrong in publishing a paper that has been previously published in a different language. The “sin” so to speak is to do it without full and open acknowledgement and declaration. A quick look around the web found several journals that state they will, in exceptional circumstances consider publishing (re-publishing?) a translation of a previously published work, particularly where the original journal/language are “obscure”. However, permission must also be obtained from the original language journal (as they will hold copyright).

    It should be noted however, that Neuroscience Letters does not have this provision in its Instructions to authors.

  • YouKnowBestOfAll September 21, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Congratulations to Elsevier for adhering to its Policy on Article Withdrawal.
    It will be interesting to see if there is any Consistency regarding similar cases.
    Since Elsevier does not answer to my emails, I’d like to ask Elsevier here:

    “When your Policy on Article Withdrawal will be applied to the paper “Welfare state, labour market inequalities and health. In a global context: An integrated framework. SESPAS report 2010″ published in Gaceta Sanitaria 2010; 24(Suppl 1):56–61, which contains two figures (the core of the paper) which appear in earlier publication of the same authors, however, without any reference to the earlier publication entitled “Employment Conditions and Health Inequalities”, Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), 20 September 2007, available here:http://www.who.int/social_determinants/resources/articles/emconet_who_report.pdf

    Fig. 1. Macro-level framework and policy entry points on p. 57 from the above mentioned paper in Gaceta Sanitaria is identical to Figure 13. Policy entry points in the macro-theoretical framework on p. 109 from “Employment Conditions and Health Inequalities”, Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), 20 September 2007;
    Fig. 2. Micro-level framework and policy entry points on p. 58 from the above mentioned paper in Gaceta Sanitaria is identical to Figure 14. Policy entry points in the micro-theoretical framework on p. 109 from “Employment Conditions and Health Inequalities”, Final Report to the WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health (CSDH), 20 September 2007.

    Apart from the identical figures, there are striking similarities in the texts of these two publications.
    WHO Report, 2007:
    Figure 2 provides a micro conceptual framework from which we can assess the potential links between employment conditions and health inequalities through a number of behavioural, psychosocial, and physiopathological pathways. Potential exposures and risk factors are classified into four main categories: physical, chemical, ergonomic, and psychosocial. axes such as social class, gender, or ethnicity/race are key relational mechanisms that explain why workers will be exposed differently to risk. the key axes generating work-related health inequalities can influence disease even though the profile of risk factors may vary dramatically. Material deprivation and economic inequalities, exposures which are closely related to employment conditions (e.g., nutrition, poverty, housing, income, etc.), may also have an important effect on chronic diseases and mental health.
    Gaceta Sanitaria, 2010:
    The “Micro Conceptual Framework” (fig. 2) identifies the links between employment conditions and health inequalities with reference to three different pathways: behavioural, psychosocial, and physio-pathological. Potential exposures and risk factors are classified into four main categories which are physical, chemical, ergonomic, and psychosocial. The specific mechanisms of stratification according to (for example) class, gender, and ethnicity/race explain how workers are exposed to risk in different ways. The axes generating work-related health inequalities can influence disease even though the profile of risk factors may vary dramatically. Exposure to material deprivation and economic inequalities, which are closely related to employment conditions (e.g., nutrition, poverty, housing, income, etc.), have important effects not only on acute conditions but also on chronic diseases and mental health.

    Then, the very same figures appear once again in 2011 WHO publication http://whqlibdoc.who.int/publications/2011/9789241503037_eng.pdf (p.165-195), once again with different titles and with absolutely no attribution to the earlier publications in Gaceta Sanitaria 2010, or WHO 2007.

    The same figures appear also in other publications of these authors, this time in peer reviewed journal:
    See “A Macro-level Model of Employment Relations and Health Inequalities” in International Journal of Health Services (IJHS) Vol. 40, No. 2, 2010, p. 215-221
    Figure 1. Theoretical framework of employment relations and health inequalities: a macro-level model on p. 217
    See “A Meso— and Micro-level Model of Employment Relations and Health Inequalities” in IJHS Vol. 40, No. 2, 2010, p. 223-227.
    Figure 1. Theoretical framework of employment relations and health inequalities: a micro-level model on p.225

    The figures are always the same, they always appear with different titles (is this an honest mistake or intentional deception?), and always there is absolutely no attribution.

    In an email to me the Vice Rector for Faculty Affairs at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (institution of one of the authors) openly admits that “Figures 1 and 2 do not explicitly refer to the document“ and that “the original report is not directly cited”.

    Interestingly enough, the University of Toronto (institution of one of the authors) has Framework for dealing with misconduct, which states: “Specifically, the following acts generally are considered instances of Research Misconduct: 4.1 m) Misleading publication, for example:
    9. Portraying one’s own work as original or novel without acknowledgement of prior publication”.
    See here: http://www.research.utoronto.ca/ethics/pdf/conduct/framework.pdf

    On top of this, there are copyright irregularities, since at present three parties (WHO, Elsevier and Baywood Publishing) claim simultaneously the copyright on identical material! (yet another reason for withdrawal)

    Dear Elsevier,
    Could you please advise whether you adhere to your Policy that:
    “ One of the conditions of submission of an article for publication is that authors declare explicitly that the article and/or its main results have not been published, nor are under consideration for publication, elsewhere. 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”.
    and also
    “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. The re-use of material, without appropriate reference, even if not known to the authors at the time of submission, breaches our publishing policies”

    Should you do not adhere to your Policy could mean only one thing – that Elsevier has discriminatory policy against authors from China, as you implement your Policy regarding authors from China, but you are reluctant to do so in other cases (the above mentioned).

    Thank you in advance for doing the right thing.

  • Colonel Boris September 21, 2012 at 3:01 am

    This used to be fairly common – even in Angew. Chem. between its Germand and International editions. I dimly recall a journal whose express purpose was to republish Russian inorganic chemistry papers into English. For my part, I don’t mind this at all as long as the authors are honest about this in the translated article and don;t try to claim a second citation for it, although I can see that playing havoc with citation metrics services.

  • Renee September 21, 2012 at 3:06 am

    I guess this makes you wonder if Esperanto (which was after all invented so that nobody had the native-language advantage) would have had a better fate if scientific research had taken off a couple of decades earlier?

  • Jon Beckmann September 21, 2012 at 6:23 am

    There should be journals that specialize in peer reviewing and publishing translations of Chinese or Japanese articles that most of us cannot read. Often the original papers are garbage, but not all.

    • Karen Shashok September 21, 2012 at 11:03 am

      Why do you think the original papers are “often” “garbage” if you cannot read them? Did German editors who could not read English feel the same way about manuscripts from US and UK researchers in the early 20th century, I wonder?

      More translation would be great but since good science translation is expensive, it seems there is not enough profit in it to make it worth their while to publishers or organizations who might be able to tackle it. There’s always notional translation, available for free with online tools. “Notional translation” will be full of grammar and syntax errors but may sometimes be just revealing enough to allow a reader to decide if the article is worth having properly translated — at ones own expense for now.

      • SG September 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

        Leave translation up to the original authors. If they want to reach a wider audience for their paper get it translated. But, a mechanism is required to get the translation in print without having it “published” again.

        I don’t know if there is more junk in the non-English literature compared to the English lit. But, I imagine that few would go through the process of translating a junk paper to English.

      • Jon Beckmann September 21, 2012 at 1:22 pm

        Why do I know they are garbage? Because I review a lot of papers from Chinese and Japanese labs (those that try to make it into English journals). They are generally pretty bad. Conceptually and methodologically.

  • chris September 21, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    I don’t have a problem with republishing work originally published in a foreign language journal in an English language journal, so long as that’s clearly indicated by the authors on submission and that the article is marked as such (“this article is an English language translation of an article previous published in…”) in the published translation. It may not be straightforward to do this (there may not be a relevant journal that acccepts this practice), but it would be unfortunate if good research doesn’t become generally accessible due to publication in an obscure language (not that Chinese is an obscure language to the Chinese!)

    The important thing is that quality science should make its due impact, and this largely means it should be published in an English language journal. That’s pretty much a fact, sad though it may well be. It’s also apparent that scientists that produce important results generally aim anyway to publish these where they can make an impact and so solid work from many Chinese, Japanese and other non-English speakers is already published in English language journals.

    But publishing in English language journals is an added burden for non-English speakers. It’s an added insult when English language journals accept papers from non English speakers and then make zero effort to edit the paper for decent English usage/grammar etc.

    e.g. as pointed out on a recent RetractionWatch thread “Journal of Enzyme Inhibition and Medicinal Chemistry” has no problem with publishing an abstract with the following sentence (from non-English speaking scientists) that no editor, subeditor or copyeditor or anyone considered it worth 5 minutes of their time to correct:

    “Because, pregnant woman is take all of these substance.”

  • Dominik January 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Just a short notice: A visualisation which compares the first (mentioned) retracted article with the original Chinese one is done with CitePlag -> http://citeplag.org/compare/6861270/6861269

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