Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Wikipedia page reincarnated as paper: Authors plagiarized paper on reincarnation

with 6 comments

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When an entry on Wikipedia dies, can it come back as a paper in a peer-reviewed journal?

Apparently not, according to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, which has retracted a 2013 article about reincarnation after discovering the authors lifted text from a “old revision” of a Wikipedia entry on the subject.

The article, “The mystery of reincarnation,” states that:

One of the mysteries puzzling human mind since the origin of mankind is the concept of “reincarnation” which literally means “to take on the flesh again.”

The article presents how different religions describe reincarnation, and apparently provides “some research evidence” about the phenomenon. But according to the retraction notice, the authors, led by AK Nagaraj of Mysore Medical College, took on the words again of other writers:

The article titled, “The mystery of reincarnation” published in pages S171-S176, Issue 6 (Supplement 2, January, 2013), vol. 55 of Indian Journal of Psychiatry[1] is being retracted. It has been reported and found that the article contains overlapping text sections from Wikipedia.[2] Therefore, on the grounds of duplicity of text, the article in concern is being retracted.

(Another notice cites this “duplicity of text” — an amusing use of the word in this case.)

The similarities between the two texts were easy to find. Here’s an excerpt from the paper:

According to the Hindu sage Adi Shankaracharya, the world-as we ordinarily understand it-is like a dream: Fleeting and illusory. To be trapped in samsara (the cycle of birth and death) is a result of ignorance of the true nature of our existence. It is ignorance (avidya) of one’s true self that leads to ego-consciousness, grounding one in desire and a perpetual chain of reincarnation. The idea is intricately linked to action (karma), a concept first recorded in the Upanishads.

And the Wikipedia entry:

According to the Hindu sage Adi Shankaracharya, the world – as we ordinarily understand it – is like a dream: fleeting and illusory. To be trapped in samsara (the cycle of birth and death) is a result of ignorance of the true nature of our existence. It is ignorance (avidya) of one’s true self that leads to ego-consciousness, grounding one in desire and a perpetual chain of reincarnation. The idea is intricately linked to action (karma), a concept first recorded in the Upanishads.

And another matched pair, first from the paper:

Karma forms a central and fundamental part of Jain faith, being intricately connected to other of its philosophical concepts like transmigration, reincarnation, liberation, non-violence (ahimsā), and non-attachment, among others. Actions are seen to have consequences: Some immediate, some delayed, even into future incarnations. So the doctrine of karma is not considered simply in relation to one life-time, but also in relation to both future incarnations and past lives.

And now, from Wikipedia:

Karma forms a central and fundamental part of Jain faith, being intricately connected to other of its philosophical concepts like transmigration, reincarnation, liberation, non-violence (ahiṃsā) and non-attachment, among others. Actions are seen to have consequences: some immediate, some delayed, even into future incarnations. So the doctrine of karma is not considered simply in relation to one life-time, but also in relation to both future incarnations and past lives.

And we could go on.

The retraction notices were written by IJP editor T.S.S. Rao, whose personal website describes him as “renowned psychiatrist” in India specializing in sexual health, and a “ray of sunshine to his patients.”

Rao, who also holds a faculty appointment at Mysore Medical College, happens to be a co-author of a 2015 review article in the IJP titled “Female Sexuality.”  The other author:  AK Nagaraj.

We did a quick Google search of the sentences in the abstract of the paper and turned up something concerning. The second line from the review reads:

Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction.

That’s awfully similar — just a comma of daylight away — to this sentence from a 2002 report from the World Health Organization:

Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction.

Maybe they can write a paper on the mysteries of deja vu. …

We’ve emailed Rao and Nagaraj for comment and will update this post if we hear from them.

Update 2/8/16 9:56 a.m. eastern: We’ve received a comment from Nagaraj:

I am the first author of the retracted article on reincarnation. A few points to clarify…..

I am a psychiatrist. This article was written to a supplement on philosophocal aspects of mental health, of Indian Journal of Psychiatry in Jan 2013. This is not an original article but a review, presenting different view points

when we quote Newton’s laws of motion or Koch’s postulates, we quote it verbatim as they are dictum. we do not alter their sentences and dilute them. similarly in a philosophical article like this, we need to quote the concepts of different religions and the teachings of their proponents. when we are quoting scriptures or the words of Buddha or Christ, I presume that they have to be presented as such. Wikipedia is the easiest way of finding english translation of the scriptures. This is the reason behind taking some sentences from there as it is. However I have quoted the reference to all sections of my article, be it wikipedia or a book/journal. No part of the article, I have claimed to be my idea or work. There are 41 references in the article covering all its areas such as introduction, various religions and the scientific research. In an article like this, If I claim anything to be mine, I would definitely need treatment.

I thought I can present a review with some verbatim where a esoteric idea is quoted, with due acknowledgement to it by a suitable reference. That is what I have done. Anybody who has read the article in full can see this. If this is unethical, probably I would have been corrected before it got published by the reviewers/journal. If philosophical knowledge sharing cannot happen in this way, then my sincere apologies to the scientific fraternity of the world. Thanks for all the criticisms. That is all I have to say.

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Comments
  • Anonymous February 1, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    IJP is published by Wolters Kluwer.

    http://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/contributors.asp
    “Manuscript provided on a floppy”

    Are floppy discs still in use?

    • Bobo February 1, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      This is my new favourite thing.
      “The manuscript must be accompanied by a 3.5 inch (1.44 MB) floppy containing the manuscript.”

  • MannyHMo February 1, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I like that statement “Maybe they can write a paper on the mysteries of deja vu” ;

  • Sylvain Bernès February 1, 2016 at 11:48 pm

    The last supplier (Sony) discontinued 3.5 inch floppies in March 2011. However, they are certainly still in use: some disks had a life span of 15-20 years.

  • Ravi February 3, 2016 at 9:21 am

    It is not plagiarism. The Wikipedia page has “mysteriously reincarnated” as the journal article 😉

  • Debora Weber-Wulff February 11, 2016 at 3:34 pm
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