Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Paper calls water “a gift from God”

with 17 comments

renewableA paper about using solar energy to make water potable has been flagged for citing God.

The shout-out isn’t subtle; in fact, it’s the first sentence of the Introduction in “Solar still with condenser – A detailed review:”

Water is a gift from God and it plays a key role in the development of an economy and in turn for the welfare of a nation.

The paper itself contains a few similarities to a 2010 paper on the same topic, “Active solar distillation—A detailed review,” which also appeared in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. But that paper phrases the first sentence of the introduction slightly differently:

Water is a nature’s gift and it plays a key role in the development of an economy and in turn for the welfare of a nation.

Earlier this month, PLOS ONE retracted a paper that cited “the Creator;” in that case, however, an author claimed the wording stemmed from a translation mistake.

There are some other similarities between the 2010 and 2016 papers. For instance, take a look at excerpts of the two abstracts — here’s the first, from 2010:

All over the world, access to potable water to the people are narrowing down day by day. Most of the human diseases are due to polluted or non-purified water resources. Even today, under developed countries and developing countries face a huge water scarcity because of unplanned mechanism and pollution created by manmade activities. Water purification without affecting the ecosystem is the need of the hour.

And the 2016 version:

Access to potable water to the people is narrowing down day after day all over the world. Most of the human diseases are caused by polluted or non-purified water resources. Water purification without affecting the ecosystem is the necessity of the hour.

To be fair, the 2016 paper cites the 2010 version in the list of references — although that reference appears at the end of the introduction, not where the textual similarities first appear.

The 2010 paper has been cited 70 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science; the 2016 paper has not yet been indexed.

The language of the 2016 earned a strong reaction on Twitter:

We contacted a representative of Elsevier, which publishes the journal, who told us:

There is only one reference to ‘God’ in the first sentence of the Introduction where it says “Water is a gift from God “ – this seems a broad reference, perhaps similar to the reference “water is a nature’s gift” in the first line of the Introduction of the 2010 paper. So we don’t think the 2016 paper is a creationist paper, as the rest of this paper is about the science of solar distillation, etc. We are also looking into the 2016 paper further for duplication, but this is a different matter.

Earlier this month, we reported on another Elsevier journal — Desalination — that published a paper that plagiarized from another in the same journal. In that case, however, the journal made a formal determination that plagiarism had occurred, which has not happened in the 2016 paper in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews.

We’ve contacted first author of the 2016 paper, A.E. Kabeel, based at Tanta University in Egypt.

Hat tip: Neuroskeptic

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Comments
  • Anonymous March 23, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    The review has 42 figures.

  • Andrew March 23, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    I do not think this level of plagiarism – mimicking phrasing as though it were boilerplate – is worthy of serious attention. It is standard practice for non-English speakers to compose general statements (introduction or discussion sections in particular) based on existing text – the mistake in this paper may be to insufficiently re-re-re-re-edit the text so as to mask its origins.

    Plagiarism that *matters* is where one claims to have done *work* that they did not do, that was done and published by someone else. Merely mimicking phrasing does not seem serious.

    The “gift from God” issue, on the other hand, simply seems like attacking the authors because of their idiom, not because of any actual scientific content in their paper (very similar to the Hand of the Creator issue, which I think was a travesty).

    -andrew

    • Neuroskeptic March 23, 2016 at 6:39 pm

      Turnitin finds 57% of the text to be identical to other sources (source: me. I was the one who reported this paper to Elsevier).

      However, even if it were only a small % of ‘boilerplate’ that was copied, it would still be unacceptable to do this in a *review* paper, which contains no original data and is meant to be original text. This is a review paper.

      Boilerplate reuse is borderline acceptable in an original data paper. But in a review paper, if you’re going to copy and paste it, why write it at all?

      • Andrew Haun March 23, 2016 at 10:52 pm

        in that case i agree it is a problem! i only read the post and glanced at the paper.

        the “god” thing seems like a non-issue though.

  • Conrad Seitz MD March 23, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    I can tolerate “Gift from God” if that’s all it says. It’s not like a theology or anything, it’s just a reference to “G-d”… but what about the rest of the paper? Does it discuss the exact same technology? Is there any update about progress in the last six years? Or is it just another piece of wallpaper pressed out for academic credit? I get tired of reading the same thing over and over again, especially if it’s from the same author. I don’t have time to be rereading the same thing.
    Some guidance from someone who has taken the time to read the two papers?

    • Jack Everett March 23, 2016 at 3:18 pm

      Any reference to a god is theology.

      • Slartibartfast March 24, 2016 at 5:03 am

        Good Lord, you don’t really mean that, do you?

  • Jack Everett March 23, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Religion is a personal belief and should never be referenced by a scientific publication. Their is no proof that god is a real entity or a fake belief regardless of religious beliefs.

  • N L Hansen DC March 23, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    I’m with Dr. Seitz – judge the paper on its merits or lack thereof. If its just the “Gift from God” term that’s upsetting someone they really need to lighten up.

    • Neuroskeptic March 23, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      My main concern with the paper is that much of the text appears to be unoriginal. But the “God” reference is not so much upsetting as baffling – this is meant to be a scientific paper (about solar water distillation). The sentence in question is out of place. I’m not sure why it was included.

      • herr doktor bimler March 23, 2016 at 10:32 pm

        It strikes me as more a case of Rogeting — replacing “nature’s figt” with “gift from God” — in an attempt to disguise the plagiarism. Any concern about creeping Deism is missing the point.

  • Anne Cooper March 23, 2016 at 3:56 pm

    ffs does it change the actual research? Can scientists not use common phrases, similes or metaphors? It was in the introduction. It doesnt change the gist of the paper, and you people are looking for heads to kick. Theres plenty of big ones around. Find them.

  • Anne Cooper March 23, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    Jack everett there is no proof that we love our children but we generally accept that we do. Ive never seen oxygen, im wondering if its a metaphor for gods breath… In other words, although i am completely agnostic, you people have to stop pretending that science knows of everything. Because it doesn’t.

    • Bobo March 23, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      No one is saying that science knows everything, merely that it’s not the place of science to speculate on the untestable, supernatural origins of water.

      For an example of how out of place “god” is in the Intro, replace “god” in the first sentence with “Emperor Zenorp from the undiscovered planet Cremlon”.

      “Water is a gift from Emperor Zenorp from the undiscovered planet Cremlon and it plays a key role in the development of an economy and in turn for the welfare of a nation.”

      I guess if we can’t disprove it, it must be A-okay to include it in a scientific paper!

  • Chris Fellows March 23, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    The issue here is the plagiarism of the 2010 paper, so titling this section to highlight the reference to God in the abstract of the 2016 paper, as if this were a Creationist stalking-horse, is misleading. ‘Nature’s gift’ and ‘a gift from God’ are *equally* unscientific phrases which both anthropomorphise physical phenomena. Writers (even plagiarists) from the Muslim world would be more sensitive to the implied idolatry in the idiom ‘Nature’s gift’ than native English speakers and naturally use the to them more natural – and logically identical – idiom ‘a gift from God’.

  • Dave Fernig March 24, 2016 at 9:51 am

    We do, however, understand how water is formed and have a good idea of where the earth’s water came from. We also know why it rains. Consequently it is wrong to use “gift of god(s)” in a paper that deals with science, rather than theology and metaphysics. There is absolutely no place for this terminology or need for the metaphor, it is either poor writing (fewer words the better) or pseudo science or both. However, if the paper is delving into the origins of matter (and hence water), then it will lie at the boundary of the Big Bang and where there is room for consideration of factors external to our universe and the event horizon of its boundaries. Otherwise not.

  • Steve March 29, 2016 at 10:05 am

    Retraction Watch is a gift from God

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