Authors dispute ethical lapse in case of double physics publication that wasn’t
That certainly sounds bad — if inconclusive — but the authors maintain the whole thing was a simple misunderstanding.
The article, “Plasma Acid: Water Treated by Dielectric Barrier Discharge,” came from the lab of Gary Friedman, a physicist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The first, and corresponding, author was Natalie Shainsky, an award-winning graduate student at the school.
As the notice states:
This paper has been rejected on March 28, 2012, because of a possible breach of ethics. The author has been informed.
We’re not sure about the use of the word “rejected” here, because the paper was accepted on March 2 and the journal elsewhere describes the action as a retraction.
We spoke with Friedman, who gave us a somewhat different story. According to the researcher, Shainsky had submitted a version — not identical but pretty close to it — of the paper to another journal while the article in PPP was under consideration. When the second journal agreed to accept the article, he said, the lab reviewed the manuscript and realized that it was too close for comfort.
When it was realized by us that that actually occurred, we retracted the second paper and what then happened was that we notified the PPP journal. There was a misunderstanding, in that some email was sent to the student, and the student thought that this was already handled and didn’t reply in time.
PPP thought we were still pursuing publication of the same paper in a different journal, which was no longer true.
Friedman said PPP did not copy all of the authors in its email to Shainsky, including himself, which might have avoided the problem.
I was not aware of the situation … until PPP put it on its website.
Friedman told us that his group has been urging the journal to revisit the retraction.
We have now written several emails and the PPP is now looking into it and I hope that they will correct the situation.
Helping his case, he said, is that the second paper never was published — indeed, it never even received a review — so there was no duplication.
In my opinion, it’s a misunderstanding not an ethical violation. No ethical violation occurred. It was a mistake that was noted in time.