Recursive plagiarism? Researchers may have published a duplicate of a study retracted for plagiarism
That appears to be the case in a paper brought to our attention by sharp-eyed reader Vladimir Baulin, whose work was copied in a 2006 paper that Journal of Biological Physics retracted for plagiarism.
But you can’t keep a good thief down: the plagiarizing authors just popped up in a new journal with a Chinese-language version of their retracted paper, that looks an awful lot like a knock-off. Here’s a note from Baulin:
I had a long exchange of emails with editors of J Biol Phys back to 2006 and they recognized the fact of plagiarism, but were telling that the paper once published cannot be unpublished and just made a comment on the web site of the journal that the original paper is somewhere else and the authors apologize.
This year the same authors has plagiarized their plagiarized paper in Chinese Acta Phys Sin. But if you look through, they have the same figures and even portions of English abstract taken from J Biol Phys.
Now the editors are not happy that this non-retracted plagiarized paper is copied again in another journal and try to do something.
The 2006 retraction from Journal of Biological Physics was short, to the point, and pretty unhelpful:
This article is retracted by the authors as they have carelessly (although unintentionally) copied parts of other papers.
The paper, titled “Nematic ordering pattern formation in the process of self-organization of microtubules in a gravitational field,” popped up again in the Chinese Acta Physica Sinica in 2013, with one of the authors missing.
Here’s the abstract from Baulin’s 1999 paper, published in Physical Review E:
The isotropic-to-nematic transition in an athermal solution of long rigid rods subject to a gravitational (or centrifugal) ﬁeld is theoretically considered in the Onsager approximation. The new feature emerging in the presence of gravity is a concentration gradient that coupled with the nematic ordering. For rodlike molecules this effect becomes noticeable at centrifugal acceleration g;103– 104 m/s2, while for biological rodlike objects, such as tobacco mosaic virus, the effect is important even for normal gravitational acceleration conditions. Rods are concentrated near the bottom of the vessel, which sometimes leads to gravity induced nematic ordering. The concentration range corresponding to phase separation increases with increasing g. In the region of phase separation the local rod concentration, as well as the order parameter, follow a step function with height.
And the abstract from the retracted paper:
Papaseit et al. (Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 97, 8364, 2000) showed the decisive role of gravity in the formation of patterns by assemblies of microtubules in vitro. By virtue of a functional scaling, the free energy for MT systems in a gravitational field was constructed. The influence of the gravitational field on MT’s self-organization process, that can lead to the isotropic to nematic phase transition, is the focus of this paper. A coupling of a concentration gradient with orientational order characteristic of nematic ordering pattern formation is the new feature emerging in the presence of gravity. The concentration range corresponding to a phase coexistence region increases with increasing g or MT concentration. Gravity facilitates the isotropic to nematic phase transition leading to a significantly broader transition region. The phase transition represents the interplay between the growth in the isotropic phase and the precipitation into the nematic phase. We also present and discuss the numerical results obtained for local MT concentration change with the height of the vessel, order parameter and phase transition properties.
Here’s the Chinese paper’s abstract, run through Google Translate (the title, which appears in English, is identical to the 2013 paper):
By virtue of a functional scaling, the free energy for Cytoskeletal microtubule (MT) Solution system in the gravitational field has been theoretically proposed and in this foundation the influence of the gravitational field on MT’s self-organization process has been studied. A coupling of a concentration gradient with orientational order characteristic of nematic ordering pattern formation is the new feature emerging in the presence of gravity. Theoretical calculation results show that the gravity facilitates the isotropic to nematic phase transition，this is reflected in a significantly broader transition region and the phase coexistence region increases with increasingor MT concentration. We also discussed the numerical results obtained for local MT concentration change with the height of the vessel and some phase transition properties.
We’ve contacted the publisher of Acta Physica Sinica, and will update with anything we hear back.
Update, 3 p.m. ET, 7/16/14: Sonya Bahar, the co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Biological Physics, tells Retraction Watch:
The plagiarism was brought to our attention in 2006. We immediately investigated and concluded that the authors had copied portions of other work. At the time, Springer did not have a “Retraction” category, so the retraction was published as an Erratum. It has now been changed to a Retraction, since Springer now has the requisite category.
Retraction statements come from authors and in this case the authors’ wording was that the plagiarism was “unintentional”, and we permitted them to use this. We do not believe that the Retraction statement is unhelpful since it contains a full listing of all the articles from which material was copied, and is not as brief as implied in the initial Retraction Watch article. Once Prof. Baulin made us aware of the re-plagiarism in Acta Physica Sinica, we again investigated, and have concluded that the Acta Physica Sinica paper is largely cut and pasted from the retracted Journal of Biological Physics article. We have contacted the editors of Acta Physica Sinica so that they can take appropriate action.
Bahar is referring to the version of the retraction notice that will set readers back $39.95 — or, if you act before July 31, just $27.95! The freely available version is what we quote above. Readers can judge how helpful all of that is for themselves, and we note that editors are always free to write their own retraction statements.