Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Mistaken punctuation, misreferencing, and other euphemisms for plagiarism

with 13 comments

soas_logo_3It’s always amusing to see how far a journal will bend over backward to avoid coming out and calling something “plagiarism.”

We’ve got two notices for you that exemplify the phenomenon, which we discussed in our Lab Times column last year.

The first, an article about apartheid, was presented at a student conference and published in the Polyvocia: The SOAS Journal of Graduate Research. It was later retracted because the author “should have used quotation marks around material written verbatim from that source.”

Here’s the notice:

Retraction: Danielle Faye Tran, Post-TRC South African writing and the trauma of apartheid, Polyvocia, vol. 4, (2012), 53-69. The author was required to acknowledge an external source regarding the phrasing of a few of the sentences in the article. Moreover, in a small number of cases the author, while properly citing the source, should have used quotation marks around material written verbatim from that source. Although this was found to be in honest error, rather than issue a correction, the author has decided to retract the article.

We’ve contacted both the journal editor and author, with no response.

The other is from a paper in Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging on mitigating the harmful side effects of radiation therapy in cancer patients. Although the word “plagiarism” appears, you’ll see that the obfuscation is even shorter and sweeter here, in the notice for “Radiation Sialadenitis Induced by High-dose Radioactive Iodine Therapy”:

The senior author (J. Lee) and the first author (S. Y. Jeong) have retracted this review article due to misconduct. They have discovered multiple instances of misreferencing and misquotation in the text which raise the concern of potential plagiarism.

The paper has been cited once, in another paper by corresponding author Jaetae Lee, who gave us a more detailed description of the “misreferencing” (this statement has been lightly edited for grammar and spelling in consideration of the fact that English is not Lee’s first language):

First of all, we feel sorry to the science community regarding retracting this article.

This article was published in April 2010, in the second issue of English version of this journal. From 2010, Nucl Med Mol Imaging changed to publish articles in the English language, while previously it was a Korean-language journal. I was asked to write a review article about an issue, entitled “radioiodine induced sialadenitis.” Because we had prepared a review article in Korean, I asked someone to translate it into English for the new journal format.

That article seemed to be well-written to me, and I submitted it for publication.

Two-and half years later, I have accidentally found that there were some misconducts in text. Some sentences were copied from one article without mentioning that reference. Furthermore, some descriptions were almost the same as in another article.

It was a special circumstance that happened during transforming the format from a Korean-language based to an English-based journal. Regardless, that was our serious fault for not checking it. Because the resident, who was first author, did not include the reference he copied from, I was not able to check it that time.

That journal also did not have a checking program for these kinds of misconduct at that time. Thus we reported it to the editorial board as soon as perceiving it, and asked for the voluntary retraction of  the article from journal.

Writing an English article must have been a big stressful event for the first author, even for me. That could be one of main causes for this happening. We were preparing the draft for Korean language but did not finish that.

Because we were notified of the change in the format of the journal while we were preparing the article, we have to rewrite it for English language before submission. Thus, it was not plagiarized in Korean.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

  • johnalanpascoe August 14, 2014 at 11:06 am

    While: “should have used quotation marks around material written verbatim from that source.” indeed sounds like a euphemism for plagiarism, I note that this quotation leaves out a key piece of context. A fuller quote reads: ”the author, while properly citing the source, should have used quotation marks around material written verbatim from that source.”

    Note the phrasing: ”while properly citing the source.” That makes it sound to me like the author did not have any intent to plagiarise (after all, they acknowledged the original source) but was not aware (through lack of training or otherwise) of the differences in how one should portray a verbatim quote compared to a paraphrased citing of an idea.

  • lar August 14, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Regarding the Jeong & Lee (2010) retraction:

    ‘I was asked to write a review article about an issue, entitled “radioiodine induced sialadenitis.” Because we had prepared a review article in Korean, I asked someone to translate it into English for the new journal format.’

    If this is a mere translation, then why should the translator become the first author? And why should the translator feel compelled to plagiarize material from other sources?

    • Narad August 14, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      If this is a mere translation, then why should the translator become the first author?

      It’s unclear to me that this is what happened; the paper only has two authors. Note that “we had prepared a review article in Korean…. We were preparing the draft for Korean language but did not finish that.”

      Perhaps something was lost in translation again.

      • Narad August 14, 2014 at 2:56 pm

        “Furthermore, salivary phosphate levels are decreased when the damaged epithelium of the intralobular duct’s wall fails in its normal function to transport phosphate into the saliva” is taken from this paper by Mandel & Mandel in Thyroid, which is not cited.

        • Narad August 14, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          Wait a second. I’m having trouble finding text in Jeong & Lee (PDF; copywrong) and (PDF) that doesn’t overlap.

          • Marco August 15, 2014 at 5:15 am

            If you want to sleuth more, check the references. They are the same from 1 to 29, and from there on some newer references have also been added (but also most of those from Mandal & Mandal are still present).

            At least they used their own pictures!

    • johnalanpascoe August 15, 2014 at 3:47 am

      The translator might be unsure of the best way to phrase a certain idea in English and then plagiarise someone else’s wording to do it. Obviously that’s not a defence, but it is a possible explanation for why the translation contains plagiarism, but not the original.

      • Nils August 15, 2014 at 5:09 am

        But look at the document comparision provided by Narad. 95% of Jeong & Lee are copy-pasted from
        the 2003 paper by Mandel & Mandel. This paper is not cited (Jeong & Lee cite an earlier 1999 paper
        by Mandel & Mandel).

      • Narad August 15, 2014 at 2:07 pm

        I’m wondering if “translator” here really means using an editorial service specializing in ESL/EFL authors (if so, it wasn’t very good): the language changes to the obviously plagiarized text are mostly niggling modifications.

        This is the sort of thing that an in-house manuscript editor can spot pretty readily, because in a high-volume operation, one is guaranteed to run into papers on subjects that one isn’t really familiar with, even within a topical portfolio. In this case, when perplexing passages come up, the only thing to do is look at the references to try to figure out what the authors are talking about, and then textual overlaps sometimes start falling out.

        Of course, a paper that seems to lurch between perfectly lucid prose and seeming word salad is a pretty good tip-off to start with. It’s usually completely innocent; you just have rewrite both the lifted and the original text. This sort of attention is unfortunately sometimes discouraged, through a combination of designed understaffing and a generous helping of the Peter Principle.

      • lar August 15, 2014 at 7:16 pm

        This explanation seems somewhat implausible to me. If the translator can’t think of a translation for a concept, how would the translator be able to find an equivalent passage in other work? He would not be able to search for the English equivalent by query (becuase he doesn’t know what it’s called). He would have to read at least one article on a similar subject from the beginning until he finds it.

        I think it would be far more efficient for the translator to look up the relevant term in dictionaries or other reference sources.

        Of course, this is assuming that the translator is aiming for a translation true to the original, and I’m not sure that that was the intention here…

  • Narad August 14, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    Document compare between Jeong & Lee and Mandel & Mandel <a href="here (popup blocker mandatory; this does not display properly for me with OS X’s Preview, but Adobe Reader works).

  • Glengarry September 3, 2014 at 2:58 pm

    Another example of a weasel (and apparently non-proofread) explanation: “The book chapter ‘Biosensing and Drug Delivery at the Microscale: Novel Devices for a Controlled and Responsive Drug Delivery’ published in the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology vol. 197: Drug Delivery has been retracted by the authors because its current version is based on a preliminary manuscript with incorrect quotations, references, and partly identical wording wiht [sic] other original manuscripts. The authors declare that they have done everything to correct this error to prove their intention to satisfy all parties concerned.” ( (The retraction, due to extensive plagiarism, of this 2010 book chapter by Andrea A. Robitzki and Randy Kurz has not previously been noted in Retraction Watch.)

    • JATdS September 3, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Glengarry, Springer (and the publisher it took over, Kluwer Academic Publishers) fails to make book chapers readily available for scrutiny. This is because Springer is the world’s most prolific scientific book publisher. My claim may appear to contradict the apparent “ethical” position that Springer appears to assume in the retraction you point out, but that in itself characterizes the heart and soul of this publisher, I believe. I am now beginning to unravel the cases of potential misconduct (some mild, others serious) that I claim fill the pages of these journals and books.

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