Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Far from earth-shatteringly new: Plagiarism topples Chinese quake paper

with 8 comments

scientificreportsA group of scientists at the Chinese Earthquake Administration in Beijing have lost their 2014 paper in Nature Scientific Reports for lifting chunks of text from a previously published article.

The abstract of the paper, “Early magnitude estimation for the MW7.9 Wenchuan earthquake using progressively expanded P-wave time window,” states:

More and more earthquake early warning systems (EEWS) are developed or currently being tested in many active seismic regions of the world. A well-known problem with real-time procedures is the parameter saturation, which may lead to magnitude underestimation for large earthquakes. In this paper, the method used to the MW9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake is explored with strong-motion records of the MW7.9, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake. We measure two early warning parameters by progressively expanding the P-wave time window (PTW) and distance range, to provide early magnitude estimates and a rapid prediction of the potential damage area. This information would have been available 40 s after the earthquake origin time and could have been refined in the successive 20 s using data from more distant stations. We show the suitability of the existing regression relationships between early warning parameters and magnitude, provided that an appropriate PTW is used for parameter estimation. The reason for the magnitude underestimation is in part a combined effect of high-pass filtering and frequency dependence of the main radiating source during the rupture process. Finally we suggest only using Pd alone for magnitude estimation because of its slight magnitude saturation compared to the τc magnitude.

But according to the retraction notice:

The authors wish to retract this Article because large sections of the text were copied from a Colombelli et al. study, which was cited as reference 37. The results and data presented in the Article have not been contested.

Well, that’s a relief. By the way, that Colombelli study would be: Colombelli, S., Zollo, A., Festa, G. & Kanamori, H., “Early magnitude and potential damage zone estimates for the great MW 9 Tohoku-Oki earthquake. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39(2012).

Here’s what study says:

The Mw 9.0, 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake has re-opened the discussion among the scientific community about the effectiveness of earthquake early warning for large events. A well-known problem with real-time procedures is the parameter saturation, which may lead to magnitude underestimation for large earthquakes. Here we measure the initial peak ground displacement and the predominant period by progressively expanding the time window and distance range, to provide consistent magnitude estimates (M = 8.4) and a rapid prediction of the potential damage area. This information would have been available 35 s after the first P-wave detection and could have been refined in the successive 20 s using data from more distant stations. We show the suitability of the existing regression relationships between early warning parameters and magnitude, provided that an appropriate P-wave time window is used for parameter estimation. We interpret the magnitude under-estimation as a combined effect of high-pass filtering and frequency dependence of the main radiating source during the rupture process.

Aldo Zollo, a co-author of the Colombelli paper, told us:

The authors of the plagiarism ‎did not use our data, they just copied large part of the text and reproduced the figures using exactly the same format and style of the ones published in our paper.

We developed a new methodology and applied it to data from the Great 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan. They applied exactly the same methodologies to data from a smaller size earthquake in China. Although the two earthquakes differed for their size and tectonic environment where they occurred, they copied large part of the discussion of results and Conclusions from our article.

Written by amarcus41

January 26th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Comments
  • Marco January 26, 2015 at 9:46 am

    “As part of this process, Scientific Reports spot checks submitted manuscripts to be scanned and compared with the CrossCheck database.”

    Sadly, not this one…

  • Dave Fernig January 26, 2015 at 10:51 am

    @Marco – exaggerated claims of the manufacturer, caveat emptor.

    How RW managed to resist a title involving the earth not moving is a greater mystery 🙂

    • herr doktor bimler January 27, 2015 at 6:39 am

      The earlier work of Carole King should have been cited.

  • The Earth Moves under My Feet January 26, 2015 at 11:19 am

    May I recommend a little lite listening while reading the story, by CAROLE KING, “I Feel The Earth Move”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbQ4m-NqeF8

  • Brian Sandle January 26, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Earthquakes cost lives. The Chinese are being helpful getting their work out to the English speaking world. Language syntax can be quite a hurdle. Using words from a published paper has made it easier. I think we should appreciate doing that sort of thing and not frighten Chinese scientists retreating into only publishing in Chinese. That paper had useful info. What alternative protection do you offer? Make the procedure acceptable and just get an easy acknowledgement framework. Had these guys had Chinese help they may not have been in court: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/oct/22/scientists-convicted-manslaughter-earthquake

    • Gary January 27, 2015 at 5:26 am

      Alternatively they could have employed a translator for their work if they wished to have it published in an English or non-English journal. I understand that writing a scientific report in another language is great hurdle but I can’t see how this is an excuse for non-attributable copying.

      • Marco January 27, 2015 at 7:53 am

        And it is not just a little bit of copying. iThenticate gave a >40% overlap with the Colombelli et al paper.

  • Brian Sandle January 27, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    There’s several parts to this.

    What is more important, open access and the progress of science or strong intellectual property science business? The latter is supposed to reward developing companies but I think whether it helps progress in general is being challenged.

    If you are making a car why not use the internal combustion engine rather than starting off from scratch? Or an electric motor?

    Of course acknowledge that you were doing something just like some other people. I am quite certain those researchers would know that it would be noticed that is what they were doing.

    It seems very sensible what they were doing. Just some education and a framework is needed.

    Are you familiar with GNU software? You may use it, copy it, change it but you may not stop others from doing to the same to what you have done. Seems to work rather well when you consider the number of servers based on Linux.

    Just need a bit of education and an easy system for attribution and licensing if it is not open approach.

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