University of Colorado librarian Jeffrey Beall — who produces a frequently updated list of predatory publishers — first wrote about the case on his blog last week. Beall alerted a journal about a duplication more than two years ago, and who re-reported it earlier this month when he failed to see a retraction.
What seems to have happened, according to an email exchange between the editor of one of the journals and the two authors of the two papers, is that Pit Pruksathorn, then a PhD student at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, submitted a paper to the Korean Journal of Chemical Engineering, a Springer title, without letting his advisor know. Prukshathorn wrote that
it’s a kind of tradition, if I may say, here in Thailand that a student who does a research put his professor’s name onto the paper.
So he included his advisor, Tharapong Vitidsant, as corresponding author. But unbeknownst to Pruksathorn, according to the emails, Vitidsant was also submitting the paper, to help Pruksathorn out, to the American Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences, published by Science Publications. That study was published.
As far as we can tell from the email chain, Pruksathorn requested the retraction of the American Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences paper in a reasonable time frame, and apologized for what happened, taking full responsibility. But in August 2010, Science Publications told him that
Since it had already been published there would be and widely circulated, there’d be the processing cost to retract the article. I have asked for the actual procedure and expected timeline.
That fee, it later emerged, would be $650.
Beall finds this charge unethical:
Scholarly publishers have an obligation to “maintain the integrity of the academic record” and should immediately retract an article that is to be excluded from that record, without charge to anyone. This policy of charging disincentivises paper retractions — which are sometimes necessary — by adding a fee barrier.
Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) chair Ginny Barbour tells Retraction Watch she’s never heard of such a practice, and that it doesn’t sound like a good idea:
…you don’t want to put any financial barrier in the way of correcting the literature.
Pruksathorn told the editor of the Korean journal that he had submitted the Science Publications form in January 2011. The study, however, has yet to be retracted. We’ve contacted the editor of the Science Publications journal, and will update with anything we hear back.
Side note: The author is trying to retract the paper that actually appeared second, in the Korean journal. But according to the email thread, Pruksathorn submitted the later-published paper to the Korean journal on October 2, 2008, and the earlier-published paper on October 28, so it could make sense to retract the American one he’s retracting. (It’s still not quite clear why Vitidsant didn’t realize he was publishing the same paper twice; he says he was busy because he became department chair.)