On May 11 of this year, Juan Antonio Baeza, an environmental engineering researcher at Universitat Autonoma Barcelona was looking for papers in Water Research about knowledge-based systems, the subject of his 1999 PhD thesis. As he tells Retraction Watch, when he came across “Improving the efficiencies of simultaneous organic substance and nitrogen removal in a multi-stage loop membrane bioreactor-based PWWTP using an on-line Knowledge-Based Expert System”:
I started to read this paper and some sentences of the abstract were interesting, well, really I thought that I would have written that with the same words! But after reading some parts of the paper I realized that those were really my words of a previous paper published in the same journal in 2002.
I started to compare it and around 40-50% of the paper was a direct copy of my paper without changing even a comma.
So he wrote to the journal on May 14:
We have detected a clear case of plagiarism in one of my papers published in Water Research. The authors have copied the whole structure and large sections of text, including parts of the abstract and the conclusions. In addition, they didn’t cite the original reference. We even think that they really didn’t do some software developments they write. The development of expert systems with Gensym G2 is not really usual in WWTP, and they write that their software is practically the same. Even they refer to FIA and CFA (page 5273), very specific analysers not defined in their materials and methods sections. Other parts of the introduction (page 5267) are copied literally from other articles as Puñal et al (2002).
In a first revision, we have highlighted all the parts of the manuscript copied literally from our work. You will see that approximately 40% of the paper has been copied. The conclusions are 95% equal.
The journal responded the same day, saying they’d forwarded the email to the editor, Mark van Loosdrecht, who in turn responded on May 23 saying they were studying the case. On June 26, van Loosdrecht contacted Baeza again to say he’d been in touch with the authors and had requested that Elsevier, Water Research‘s publisher, retract the paper. On October 23, the editor confirmed it would be retracted, and the notice appeared the next day:
This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.
This article has been retracted because it has been using a previous published paper as template without making reference to this previous work. The original work can be consulted at http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0043-1354(01)00402-X.
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 text 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.
The paper has been cited three times, according to Google Scholar. Baeza said:
So finally the retraction process was 5 months. I don’t know if it is too much or I’ve been lucky.
In our experience, five months is pretty quick, and the journal certainly seems to have taken this as seriously as we’d hope a journal would. Read another example of what it feels like to have your work plagiarized here.