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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Reused figures lead to two chemistry retractions, one correction

with 6 comments

Why just have three peer-reviewed publications when you can reuse figures to publish a fourth?

That’s the sort of thinking that got one research group slapped with a retraction of their 2009 study, “Carbon Nanotubes Are Able To Penetrate Plant Seed Coat and Dramatically Affect Seed Germination and Plant Growth.”

The journal ACS Nano, published by the American Chemical Society, issued the retraction on Aug. 20:

This paper was withdrawn due to violations of the Ethical Guidelines to Publication of Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society for reason of unacceptable redundant inclusion of text and graphics from two works previously published in other journals (Morphology of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes Affected by the Thermal Stability of the Catalyst System. E. Dervishi, Z. Li, A. R. Biris, D. Lupu, S. Trigwell, A. S. Biris. DOI: 10.1021/cm062237l; Influence of the RF Excitation of the Catalyst System on the Morphology of Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes. A. S. Biris, T. C. Schmitt, R. B. Little, Z. Li, Y. Xu, A. R. Biris, D. Lupu, E. Dervishi, S. Trigwell, D. W. Miller, Z. Rahman. DOI: 10.1021/jp0740346). Specifically, Figures 1b, 1c, and 1d were reproduced from these sources without acknowledging their prior use. In addition, Figure 1a was also previously published in another article (Analysis of effluent gases during the CCVD growth of multi-wall carbon nanotubes from acetylene. T.C. Schmitt, A.S. Biris, D.W. Miller, A.R. Biris, D. Lupu, S. Trigwell, Z.U. Rahman. DOI: 10.1016/j.carbon.2006.01.008).

Manuscript DOI: 10.1021/jp0740346 has also been withdrawn. The original ACS Nano paper was published ASAP on September 22, 2009, and withdrawn on August 20, 2012.

The second withdrawn paper to which the notice refers is “Influence of the RF Excitation of the Catalyst System on the Morphology of Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes,” published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry C. The two papers were cited 46 times and 15 times, respectively, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The repeated figures also led to a correction of another ACS journal, Chemistry of Materials, for “Morphology of Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes Affected by the Thermal Stability of the Catalyst System:”

This article was found to contain data and graphics that were improperly included and misused in two papers subsequently published in other journals by the same authors (ACS Nano 2009, 3, 3221−3227, DOI: 10.1021/nn900887m; J. Phys. Chem. C 2007, 111, 17970−17975, DOI: 10.1021/jp0740346). The ACS Nano and J. Phys. Chem. C articles have since been retracted. Moreover, two figures in this article (2a and 2c) are the same as those contained in another paper (Carbon 2006, 44, 2032−2038; DOI: 10.1016/j.carbon.2006.01.008; Figures 1a and 2) and were not acknowledged as such in the Chem. Mater. paper.

Alexandru S. Biris, the lead investigator on the retracted paper, was one of seven winners of the 2011 faculty excellence award for research at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he leads the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences.

Biris did not respond to several phone calls or email messages, and a spokesperson for the university for UALR did not return calls for comment.

We’ll let you know if we find out more. In the meantime, we’ll remind Retraction Watch readers that ACS Nano takes duplication — a.k.a. self-plagiarism — quite seriously, as we reported last year.

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6 Responses

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  1. “This article was found to contain data and graphics that were improperly included and misused in two papers subsequently published in other journals by the same authors”.
    Sounds nonsensical. Even more so that the two offending papers have already been retracted.

    chirality

    September 26, 2012 at 8:59 am

  2. Below is identical case of multiple reuse of figures without any attribution, but so far (almost one year now) there is a great deal of RELUCTANCE from the editor (Ms Carme Borrell), the publisher (Elsevier), the institutions (Universitat Pompeu Fabra and University of Toronto), and regrettably COPE (Natalie Ridgeway and Virginia Barbour) to Do-the-Right-Thing.

    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, 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 publicationhttp://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!

    Elsevier declares 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”,
    but so far does nothing (not even responding to my emails).

    COPE declares here http://publicationethics.org/about that “All COPE members are expected to follow the Code of Conduct for Journal Editors. COPE will investigate complaints that members have not followed the Code”, but so far continuously deflects the above issue.

    All this proves that the current system which is based on trust and self-regulation is unable to fulfil its main purpose – to maintain clean the scientific publications. Rather, the above case is an example of multiple misconducts and cover up on all levels.

    The time for a change is long overdue!
    Only the Transparency Index has the potential to show whether the editor/publisher/institutions really
    Do-the-Right-Thing to maintain clean the scientific publications.

    YouKnowBestOfAll

    September 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

    • You better make a post out of it in Science-Fraud.org, and instead of pushing the case to editor, push it to public view. This should put it in a more uncomfortable and eventually (new editor, other complaints, etc) the paper will be retracted. At least you surely will reduce its citation rate.

      Hibby

      December 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm

  3. In the nanotech field there was until recently an entire blog devoted to image fraud (http://nanotechmanipulation.wordpress.com/) but it went private a couple of months ago. No explanation why, and no way to contact the author to get an invitation to view, which is all rather frustrating because they were doing a good job! Up to that point, the pages were bursting with examples of image manipulation, in particular the papers of SK Sahoo (http://www.ils.res.in/sksahoo.htm).

    sciencefraudster

    September 26, 2012 at 10:26 am

  4. Dr. Biris’ problem is NOT simply reusing figures. Since the experimental conditions are different in these papers, how can he get the same results?
    The similar problems are also found many of his 1st authored articles, e.g.,
    – A. Biris, S. Ardelean, D. Lupu, I. Misan, C. Iancu, D. M. Bartos, I. R. Ilie, E. Dervishi, Y. Xu, A. Biswas, A. Biris, Studies on near infrared optical absorption, Raman scattering, and corresponding thermal properties of single- and double-walled carbon nanotubes for possible cancer targeting and laser-based ablation, Carbon, Volume 49, Issue 13, November 2011, Pages 4403–4411
    – A. Biris, A. Biris, D. Lupu, S. Trigwell, E. Dervishi, Z. Rahman, P. Marginean, Catalyst excitation by radio frequency for improved carbon nanotubes synthesis, Chemical Physics Letters, Volume 429, Issue 1, p. 204-208.
    – A. Biris, D. Boldor, J. Parker, W. Monroe, M. Mahmood, E. Dervishi, Y. Xu, Z. Li, E. I. Galanzha, V. P. Zharov. “Nanophotothermolysis of multiple scattered cancer cells with carbon nanotubes guided by time-resolved infrared thermal imaging”. J. Biomed. Opt., Vol. 14, 021007 (2009).

    Ioana

    March 22, 2014 at 10:34 pm

  5. Of course the university would not fire Biris, actually from Chancellor, Provosts to deans, chairs and his students all were aware of his ethical problems before the university honored Biris with the 2011 faculty excellence award for research at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
    from: Daoyuan Wang
    reply-to: review
    to: NANOTECHCENTER@ualr.edu
    date: Mon, Oct 4, 2010 at 10:40 AM
    subject: Re: Seminar on Ethics in Research and Publication
    Dr. Alexandru Biris,

    At the mention of ethics in research and publication, I found numerous ethical problems in more than 20 of your first-authored and/or corresponding-authored papers.
    I think that those ethically questionable papers have set a negative example for me – a student who is optimistic about the academic atmosphere of the Nanotechnology Center and is aiming to be a scientist like you in the near future.
    I was dismayed to find your repeated ethical problems. I wish I had not seen those papers.
    Please help!

    Daoyuan Wang

    On Wed, Sep 29, 2010 at 2:22 PM, Alexandru Biris wrote:
    Dear all,

    The Nanotechnology Center will present a seminar Wed Oct 6 at 3:30pm on Ethics in Research and Publication, which will be offered by Dr. Marinelle Ringer.
    All the Nano Center employees and students are required to participate (there will be a sign in sheet).
    The seminar is tentatively scheduled to be in the Applied Science Conference Room (ETAS 5th floor).

    With best regards,

    Alex Biris


    University of Arkansas at Little Rock
    Applied Science Department, ETAS 151
    UALR Nanotechnology Center,
    2801 South University Ave.
    Little Rock, AR 72204
    Tel:(501) 683-7458
    Fax:(501) 683-7601
    Email: asbiris@ualr.edu

    Vikramaditya

    September 21, 2014 at 9:53 pm


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