Here’s something we haven’t seen before: A group of researchers plagiarize, are called on it, and are then allowed to resubmit a new version that’s published, while their offending paper is retracted.
A reader flagged the plagiarism in the original paper, “Protein domains, catalytic activity, and subcellular distribution of mouse NTE-related esterase,” by Ping’an Chang and colleagues, which led the research team to revise and resubmit the manuscript. After the journal Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry — a Springer title — published the plagiarism-scrubbed paper, the original paper required retraction.
The retraction refers to a dispute between labs, but not plagiarism:
This article has been withdrawn due to a disagreement between authors and the original laboratory where the research was conducted.
The paper has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Here’s what Alexander Brown, a Springer spokesperson, told Retraction Watch by email:
In this case, Dr. Sanjeeva Wijeyesakere of the University of Michigan raised serious concerns about plagiarism, mainly for the writing of the manuscript and some figures. Upon investigation, it was determined that some of the writing as well as two cartoon figures were similar in both papers. Dr. Chang submitted a revised version of the manuscript with modified cartoon figures, which were then looked at by Dr. Wijeyesakere who was satisfied with the alterations made. This revised paper was then found suitable for publication and all parties were notified. Springer Management then retracted the first paper (Mol Cell Biochem, DOI 10.1007/s11010-009-0185-3) upon the recommendation of the Editor-in-Chief, and printed the revised version (Mol Cell Biochem, DOI 10.1007/s11010-0009-0382-0).
While there was an allegation of plagiarism of several sentences and some cartoon figures, it did not nullify the results or conclusions. All authors were involved in the retraction of this paper, and Dr. Wijeyesakere who made the allegation was fully satisfied.
The Editor-in-Chief believed the major problem was that some portions of the text were similar in sentence structure due to a language problem, and two figures required modification. These were corrected by the authors and the dispute between the two laboratories was resolved by retracting the original version and publishing the revised version.
Brown didn’t identify the original lab whose work was plagiarized. We’ll keep you updated if new information comes in.
Chang never responded to our emails. We heard back from one of his c0-authors, who did not mention plagiarism. Yi-Jun Wu, senior author and investigator with the Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, emailed:
I do not know exactly why the paper was withdrawn. I asked Dr. Ping-an Chang, the corresponding author of the paper and he told me that the retracted (paper) is the old version of the paper (that) appeared at first in the website rather than the formal version of the article printed later.
Like Wu, we’re still puzzled.