Last week, we reported on a retraction in the Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry that left us a bit puzzled. The notice referred to a problem with “the way the data was presented,” but the authors told us this was just an error picked up in proofreading, somehow after the paper had been published online.
We now have much more of the story. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s May Copsey, who edits the journal, tells Retraction Watch:
The article was originally accepted for publication on 8th February 2012, and the accepted version of the article was then published online as an Accepted Manuscript on 13th February 2012 (not the final, edited version).
During the proof stage we were then informed by the authors that there were significant changes to be made to the article. At this stage, the Editor handling the papers didn’t realise that the accepted version of the article had already been published online (publication of Accepted Manuscripts is an automated process which authors opt into at submission), and so suggested to the authors that the article be withdrawn for these changes to be made. The Editor noted at this time that it may then be necessary for further peer-review if there were significant changes to the article. The corresponding author, Professor Imashuku, agreed that the paper should be withdrawn, and the authors would resubmit a revised version at a later date. We’d like to thank the authors for alerting us at this stage about the concerns with the data, and we fully accept that it was our mistake that the article was allowed to be withdrawn at this stage, with the Accepted Manuscript remaining available.
After further peer-review of a subsequently submitted revised manuscript on 14th March 2012, there was still remaining doubt over the reliability of the data in the article, and so publication was not taken any further.
It came to our attention through internal system checks in May 2013 that the original Accepted Manuscript was still available online. We then contacted the authors, and suggested that the article be retracted due to the errors that had been mentioned in earlier correspondence, and the continuing concerns from the review process. The authors informed us then that the errors in the manuscript were not significant, but changes had been necessary to several figures and tables in the manuscript. It was then agreed with the authors that the accepted version of the article should be retracted to maintain the scientific record.
Copsey also offered an apology, and said the article record would be updated:
We understand and apologise that this process was not clear from our original retraction notice, and so will be adding some details to the article record on our website shortly to clarify this situation. The Royal Society of Chemistry is a member of COPE, we consult the Code of Conduct and Best Practice Guidelines of the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE) and act accordingly.