Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Peer reviewer steals text for his own chemistry paper, gets sanctioned by journal

with 6 comments

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A peer reviewer apparently thought portions of a manuscript he was reviewing were so good he wanted them for himself.

Substantial sections of a paper that Junwei Di reviewed appear in his own paper on a method for making tiny particles of silver to precise specifications. Di is a chemist at Soochow University in China. The journal has banned Di from submitting papers or serving as a peer reviewer “for a certain time.”

The retraction note for the 2015 paper, “Controllable Electrochemical Synthesis of Silver Nanoparticles on Indium-Tin-Oxide-Coated Glass” explains how the editors at ChemElectroChem became aware of the plagiarism:

The above article, published online on 11 February 2015 in Wiley Online Library (, and in Volume 2, pp. 578–583, has been retracted by agreement between the Editor-in-Chief, Greta Heydenrych, Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA and the corresponding author, Junwei Di. This retraction has been agreed upon because the above mentioned manuscript contains substantial sections of text from a manuscript (still unpublished) that the corresponding author has reviewed for a different journal, thus abusing his privilege as peer reviewer. ChemElectroChem has been alerted to this by the editor of the other journal, who was informed by the author of the manuscript under review.

The paper has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We asked the journal’s EIC Greta Heydenrych if there were any consequences for Di beyond the retraction:

Yes, he has been sanctioned: No submissions or peer review for a certain time.

While we see plagiarism a lot, a retraction note that cites an unpublished review paper is relatively rare. Reviewers stealing work is not unheard of, though — we know of at least one instance from Nature Reviews Genetics (courtesy of this 2010 article from The Scientist). And take this case described by former BMJ editor Richard Smith (and current member of the board of directors of our parent organization) in a 2006 Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine editorial:

There are several ways to abuse the process of peer review. You can steal ideas and present them as your own, or produce an unjustly harsh review to block or at least slow down the publication of the ideas of a competitor. These have all happened. Drummond Rennie tells the story of a paper he sent, when deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, for review to Vijay Soman.9 Having produced a critical review of the paper, Soman copied some of the paragraphs and submitted it to another journal, the American Journal of Medicine. This journal, by coincidence, sent it for review to the boss of the author of the plagiarized paper. She realized that she had been plagiarized and objected strongly. She threatened to denounce Soman but was advised against it. Eventually, however, Soman was discovered to have invented data and patients, and left the country.

The Committee on Publication Ethics has a flow chart of suggested actions to take if a reviewer is suspected of stealing an author’s ideas or data. COPE also describes a case where authors accused a reviewer of lifting their ideas, but the reviewer was ultimately exonerated.

We have reached out to Di for comment, and will update this post with anything else we learn.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

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  • Jack February 18, 2016 at 5:51 pm

    Needs to be a much harsher punishment!

  • Steven St. John February 18, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    I was recently discussing peer review in my research methods class and I raised the possibility that a reviewer might steal ideas from a paper under review. I suggested that just to get them thinking about whether, for example, reviewers should be anonymous, but at the end of the discussion I admitted such a scenario – at least where conscious theft was involved – was hopefully pretty unlikely. Looks like I have to update my perceived odds.

    I agree with Jack. This kind of abuse cuts to the very core of the peer review system. The ban should be permanent, and the reviewer’s university informed.

    • blatnoi February 22, 2016 at 5:18 am

      There was a famous case in chemistry in 2007 in a hot field, where misconduct was found, but the person responsible is still a professor. It’s described in the last page of this PDF from chemistry world (p 53). There are other news stories, but C&EN is paywalled.

  • DrRachie February 20, 2016 at 5:05 am

    Anecdotally, occurs a lot with grants apps. You submit one, it gets knocked back, you see it again the following year in someone else’s grant. Sometimes, they’re so audacious to not even try to hide it. It’s a matter of whether it’s worth your while to report and pursue it.

  • Dr. Mushtaq February 21, 2016 at 11:38 am

    A ban for such people from all the relevant journals may make the authors safe in future.

  • Codenext March 27, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Did you see? There is something fishy. See the reply of EIC Greta Heydenrich as stated above……..”Yes, he has been sanctioned: No submissions or peer review for a certain time”……..So, they are going to take this person again?………wow!!!!! So how the author will get assurance their work will it be stolen again?

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