The paper, “Wettability-gradient-driven micropump for transporting discrete liquid drops,” was published on February 8 of this year. For a paper published in a journal run by the Institute of Physics, the retraction notice reads like a mix of Hindenburg (read: disaster) and Heisenberg (read: uncertainty):
The science reported in this article is not incorrect. This article does not include all co-authors who contributed to the work. The article incorrectly attributes work performed at the University of California to the University of Jordan, and fails to acknowledge contributions from Georgia Institute of Technology. This article does not acknowledge the sources of funding for the work and the reference list is incomplete. This article was submitted by Hamzeh K Bardaweel without the knowledge of the other authors.
There’s a lot going on here, so we’ll unpack it.
First, the “science reported in this article is not incorrect.” This strikes us as a bit defensive, but more to the point, if the science is correct, and all that’s wrong is some attributions, why not an erratum? Sure, we see the need to let Bardaweel know he was in the wrong, but why a retraction?
What is perhaps most puzzling, however, is how the corresponding author of a paper — in this case, Cristina Davis of UC Davis — doesn’t know it’s being published. Surely the journal had some — what’s the word we’re looking for, oh! — correspondence with her before the paper was published? We couldn’t find a definition of corresponding author on the Institute of Physics site, but here’s Elsevier’s:
The Corresponding Author is the person who is responsible for the manuscript as it moves through the journal’s submission process.
This person must be registered with the Elsevier Editorial System as all correspondence pertaining to the manuscript will be sent to him/her via the system.
The Corresponding Author is the person responsible for making any edits/submitting revisions to the manuscript and is the only author connected to the manuscript who may view the progress of the manuscript as it moves from one stage to the next.
Did the journal never check with any of the alleged authors of the paper except Bardaweel, who is listed as a postdoc at UC Davis? We’ve seen cases in which a corresponding author submitted a paper without the permission of his or her co-authors, but we’re not sure we’ve seen a case like this. Some journals now copy all authors on all correspondence, precisely to avoid such issues.
The editor of the journal, Mark Allen, coincidentally, is at the Georgia Institute of Technology, one of the institutions whose contributions weren’t acknowledged. We’ve contacted Allen, and Davis, to find out what happened here, and will update with anything we learn.
Update, 4 p.m. Eastern, 5/24/13: Ian Forbes, the journal’s publisher, tells us:
The paper in question was submitted to the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering by Hamzeh K Bardaweel. Dr Bardaweel nominated himself as corresponding author, stating that he was acting with the knowledge and approval of all co-authors.
The article was peer reviewed and accepted for publication and during the production process Dr Bardaweel asked that Professor Cristina E Davis be listed as the author for correspondence on the final published paper. As noted by several of the commentators on your original piece, whilst this is unusual, this does occasionally happen.
Shortly after publication we were contacted by Professor Davis who advised us that she had not given permission to Dr Bardaweel for the paper to be submitted. We investigated this further and after discussion with all parties agreed that under the circumstances a retraction was appropriate.
This situation is unusual and difficult for all so we have worked with all parties to resolve it as quickly as possible.
IOP is committed to providing first rate author service and aim to deal with any issues that arise in a fair and constructive way that makes any changes clear in the archival record and to the community.
Hat tip: Philip King