Quantum physicists learn about Heisenberg’s (publishing) uncertainty principle the hard way
As Werner Heisenberg famously conjectured, you can’t measure an atomic particle’s momentum and position at the same time. But perhaps the principle named for the German physicist and godfather of quantum mechanics should be applied to another important scientific truth: you can’t publish the same article in two different but competing journals.
Just ask a group led by Ted Sargent, a prominent physicist at the University of Toronto. He and his colleagues recently lost a paper in Thin Solid Films — which sounds like it ought to be the name of an indie movie company, dibs! — on quantum dot solar cells. (If those sound familiar to readers of this blog, there’s a good reason. We wrote about the retraction of another quantum dot paper, this one in Nature Photonics, in October of this year.)
Sargent’s article, “Advances in colloidal quantum dot solar cells: The depleted-heterojunction device,” which he wrote with colleagues in Spain and Switzerland, appeared in August 2011. According to the notice:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief and first and corresponding author.
The article was largely a duplication of a paper that had already appeared in ACS Nano, 4 (2010) 3374–3380, http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/nn100335g.
The first and the corresponding authors (Kramer and Sargent) would like to apologize for this administrative error on their part; and further apologize to coauthors Andras G. Pattantyus-Abraham, Aaron R. Barkhouse, Xihua Wang, Gerasimos Konstantatos, Ratan Debnath, Larissa Levina, Ines Raabe, Md.K. Nazeeruddin, and Michael Grätzel, who were not informed of the submission and retraction of this manuscript, and who were not involved in the error that led to the needed retraction.
The paper has not been cited.
The ACS Nano paper was titled “Depleted-Heterojunction Colloidal Quantum Dot Solar Cells.” It was published in May 2010. We note that the order of authors on the two papers has been shuffled a bit, with the first and second names swapping positions between the two articles. Sargent also happens to be a member of the ACS Nano editorial board — and, presumably, was fully in support of an editorial it published earlier this year on the “dangers of self-plagiarism.”
We have lots of questions about this case. First, what was the “administrative” error that led to the redundant submission of a previously published paper and which, in the process, managed to rearrange the first authors and slightly modify the title — which might serve to put some illusory daylight between the two papers? Also, why did Sargent and Kramer fail to inform their coauthors that they had resubmitted the paper? And why didn’t Thin Solid Films catch this during the review/acceptance process when it (we hope) asked for author attestations for the manuscript?
We have attempted to contact Sargent and the journal and will update this post if we learn more. Meanwhile, Paul Weiss, editor of ACS Nano, declined to discuss the specifics of the paper.