Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

The “sins and virtues of authors span a rather colorful palette”: New editor yanks plagiarized paper

with 4 comments

scientometricsWhat a difference a new editor can make.

Consider the case of a paper in Scientometrics that came to the attention earlier this year of Jeffrey Beall.

Beall, a research librarian and scourge of the predatory publishing world, had previously posted on his blog about his frustrations with the journal’s seeming indifference to the word theft. (He also helped bring about another plagiarism retraction we covered earlier this year.)

The article was titled “Educational reforms and internationalization of universities: evidence from major regions of the world,” and was written by a group from China and Pakistan.It has been cited just once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, by another paper in Scientometrics.

According to the retraction notice:

The Editor-in-Chief has decided to retract the following article, G. Akhmat et al.: Educational reforms and internationalization of universities: evidence from major regions of the world. Scientometrics 98, pp. 2185–2205, DOI 10.1007/s11192-013-1130-5. Upon investigation carried out according to the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines, it has been found that the article duplicates paragraphs of various internet sources as well as copied paragraphs from published papers.
In particular the authors duplicated parts from Section V of a report on The Impact of Education on Economic Growth: Theory, Findings, and Policy Implications by Brian G. Dahlin, Duke University 2008 without proper attribution.
The authors have agreed to the retraction.

In Beall’s post about this paper in March, he reprinted a letter from one András Schubert, then editor of Scientometrics, in response to the accusation of plagiarism:

Dear Dr. Beall,

We greatly appreciate your distinguished interest in our journal, and your undoubtedly well-intentioned warning about a dubious paper published in a recent issue.

As an Editor serving the journal for several decades, I have learned that the sins and virtues of authors span a rather colorful palette, and it is far not easy to make justice even in apparently obvious cases.

Plagiarism is a severe accusation which, if confirmed, cannot be relativized or exculpated. Although according to the Wikipedia “the idea [of plagiarism] remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism), there appears to be an almost complete consensus, that the key criterion of plagiarism is that no credit is given to the source. As you correctly observed in your letter, this is not the case in the ominous paper.

I would say that the authors of the paper used a rather unorthodox technique in the Introduction and the Conclusion sections and the Discussion part of their paper: they compiled a large stock of relevant literature, and edited a coherent flow of text from selected paragraphs (a kind of “collage technique”) honestly indicating the sources of each of them separately. The lack of quotation marks may be objectionable, but it is questionable whether their use would have improved the readability or the credibility of the text. I would certainly not encourage other authors to follow this technique, but I cannot condemn it, either.

To be honest, using the customary way of summarizing the literature, i.e., inweaving cited text fragments (whether using quotation marks or not) into a host text, more often than not, the cited ideas are detached from their original context and serve merely as an amplifying aid to the authors’ arguments. At least, this kind of bias is avoided using full-paragraph citations.

Between the Introduction and the Discussion, the main part of the paper contains the Methodology and the Results. This part was found by two competent referees original and useful; these opinions supported the decision of the Editor-in-Chief to accept the paper. If you would happen to find any peccability in these crucial parts, this would, of course, justly question the correctness of the decision.

Anyway, we are grateful for calling our attention to the observed anomaly, and we promise to take marked attention to properly handle similar cases in the future.

Let me take the opportunity to ask you whether you would be willing to review manuscripts falling in the scope of your research competence for our journal. As a referee, you would have the opportunity to make your remarks in an early stage, thereby you could help us to improve the quality of our journal.

Sincerely yours,

András Schubert, Editor, Scientometrics

The editorship has since gone to Wolfgang Glänzel, who perhaps realized that one quick way to boost the quality of the publication would be to purge it of obviously plagiarized articles.

Hat tip: Iben Brøndum

Comments
  • Eibl May 13, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Interesting story. In cases like this it appears to be so easy to proof the plagiarism, but sometimes the really criminal professors support the plagiarism of an idea, project and the copying of fundamental and pioneering results, just to support specific but less brilliant people in their labs… I wonder why there is so little self-justice known.

  • BB May 14, 2014 at 7:39 am

    This is a rather exaggerated conclusion. The old and the new editors co-authored numerous publications in the last 20 years, so I do not think that he merely overturned the decision of his predecessor, probably new evidence surfaced in the interim (I am only guessing).

  • Poniesinjudah May 16, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    ” . . . far not easy to make justice”? “Peccability”? That’s not even a word! And he cites Wikipedia! If the journal is in English this level of English language illiteracy is absolutely unacceptable. Science publishing has bigger problems than planned-hacking and where to put the quotation marks. Jeez.
    Even if Scientometrics in in German Shubert should have had this letter/checked by a native speaker of English.

    • Poniesinjudah May 16, 2014 at 3:03 pm

      I meant “p-hacking”. Failed to proofread. Apologies.

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