Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Nightmare scenario: Text stolen from manuscript during review

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A food science journal has retracted a paper over “a breach of reviewer confidentiality,” after editors learned it contained text from an unpublished manuscript — which one of the authors appears to have reviewed for another journal.

The publisher and editors-in-chief of the Journal of Food Process Engineering became aware of the breach when the author of the unpublished manuscript lodged a complaint that his paper, under review at another journal, had been plagiarized by the now retracted paper.

We’re hazy on a few details in this case. Although the journal editor told us the “main author” of the retracted paper reviewed the original manuscript for another journal, the corresponding author of the retracted paper said he was not to blame. (More on that below.)

When looking into the matter, the publisher found that one of the co-authors of the published paper had acted as a reviewer of the unpublished manuscript. Alexandra Cury, an associate editor at Wiley, explained:

We received a complaint from an author that his unpublished paper was plagiarized in an article published in the Journal of Food Process Engineering. After investigation, we uncovered evidence that one of the co-authors of “Potentiality of Neem (Azadirachtaindica) Powder in Rheology Modification of Oil-in-Water Emulsion” acted as a reviewer on the unpublished paper during the peer review process at another journal. We ran a plagiarism report and found a high percentage of similarity between the unpublished paper and the one published in the Journal of Food Process Engineering. After consulting with the corresponding author, the editors decided to retract the paper.

Editor-in-chief Elena Castell-Perez, from Texas A&M University, confirmed “the main author was a reviewer of that article for another journal.”

Here’s the retraction notice of “Potentiality of Neem (Azadirachta indica) Powder in Rheology Modification of Oil-in-Water Emulsion,” first published online in 2014 in the Journal of Food Process Engineering. It has not been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters:

The above article from the Journal of Food Process Engineering, published online on 23 October 2014 in Wiley Online Library (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1111/jfpe.12132/full), has been retracted by agreement between Nasir Mehmood Khan, the Editors-in-Chief, M. Elena Castell-Perez and Rosana Moreira, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The retraction has been agreed due to a breach of reviewer confidentiality relating to a paper submitted to another journal and lack of agreement by all authors to submit the paper on their behalf.

Several points in this case remain hazy. For instance, it’s not entirely clear who was the culprit. The paper’s corresponding author Nasir Mehmood Khan, from the Shaheed Benazir Bhuto University in Pakistan, pointed the finger at his students. Khan told us that some of his students had logged into his account and used “data and results,” which they “man[i]pulated in their work.”

Castell-Perez said she can’t be certain who is responsible for the plagiarism:

The fact is that the main author was a reviewer of that article for another journal. Did he actually do the review? We cannot tell (again, he mentions students accessing his accounts?) though the “breach of reviewer confidentially” claim was never challenged by him.

Castell-Perez noted as well that the article her journal plagiarized hadn’t been published yet, so they couldn’t check it for plagiarism. It was only when the original author saw the now-retracted paper that he/she knew it had plagiarized from his/her unpublished manuscript:

The article was published in our journal and our tool to check for similarities with other articles could only check against published articles. The plagiarized manuscript has not been published yet. That is why I suspected access to the material could have only [been] possible through the review process from another journal.

We asked Khan for further details on the situation, but he did not respond. We also reached out to several coauthors on the retracted paper as well as the university, but did not hear back.

Of course, for many scientists, this is their nightmare scenario — a peer reviewer who sees their manuscript in confidence steals some of it. We covered another case where an author wrote a letter to the reviewer who plagiarized from his unpublished manuscript. The reviewer stole more than just his words, the author wrote:

It took 5 years from conceptualization of the study to publication of the primary analysis. This study was my fellowship project and required a lot of work. It took effort to find the right research team, design the study, raise the funds, get approvals, recruit and create materials for study participants, run the diet classes, conduct the study visits, compile and analyze the study data, and write the initial report…In all, this body of research represents at least 4000 hours of work.

Hat Tip: Rolf Degen

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Comments
  • John H Noble Jr March 22, 2017 at 11:58 am

    This egregious breach of the confidentiality that is expected from peer reviewers involves the monetized value of 4,000 hours of work. The monetized value probably reaches the threshold for grand larceny violation of criminal law. The perpetrator(s) are liable and can be prosecuted in the venue with jurisdiction. There are also likely civil liabilities that the author could pursue. This case is worth following because of the precedent it may set as a deterrent against future breaches of confidentiality by peer reviewers.

  • Ayse Tezcan March 22, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    One of the reasons why support the preprint effort like ASAPbio and BioRxiv.

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