Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Idea theft: Two food chemistry papers retracted for using someone’s ideas

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A researcher has retracted two papers after her former supervisor complained she had used his ideas and methodology.

In addition, some of the work was apparently covered by a copyright agreement.

Both papers were co-authored by the same three people. The idea theft came to light after one of the co-authors received a complaint from her former supervisor, prompting her to contact the publisher to resolve the issue.

Wendy Hurp, executive publisher of Food Science at Elsevier, which publishes the two journals, provided some additional background on what happened:

The author of these papers contacted us, saying she had been contacted by her former supervisor who complained to her that she had used his ideas without attribution in our papers and had violated a confidentiality agreement. The supervisor disputed the author’s account of events and provided details of signed agreement.

To resolve the dispute, Hurp took the following action:

I involved the author’s institute and after considerable negotiation between all parties, it was agreed that the paper would be retracted without specific mention of “violating” the agreement, but on grounds of using key ideas, novel experimental approaches, and conclusions from another researcher without “attribution or acknowledgement” .

Here’s the retraction notice for “Preparation and characterization of hydrophilic debranched starch modified by pullulanase on swollen granule starch:”

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor in Chief and authors, as it was published using the key ideas, novel experimental approaches, and conclusions of Yong-Cheng Shi of Kansas State University without attribution or acknowledgement of his contribution to the research. In addition, part of the content is covered by a signed confidentiality agreement.

The paper was published in Food Research International in January 2015, and cited once, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. According to Hurp, this retraction was submitted in December and appeared online on February 2, 2017.

The three authors and editor also withdrew a 2013 paper published in Carbohydrate Polymers, Evaluation of amorphous debranched starch as extended-release matrices in tablets:”

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor in Chief and authors, as it was published using the key ideas, novel experimental approaches, and conclusions of Yong-Cheng Shi of Kansas State University without attribution or acknowledgement of his contribution to the research. In addition, part of the content is covered by a signed confidentiality agreement. The Publisher regrets any inconvenience caused to the readers.

This paper, which has been cited five times, was retracted in October 2016.

We contacted all three authors—Yan Hong, Guodong Liu and Zhengbiao Gu, from the State Key Laboratory of Food Science and Technology in China—but did not hear back. We also reached Yong-Cheng Shi by phone, but he declined to comment.

In December 2016, Shi received an award for a lecture he gave in October at the annual American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International meeting. According to the AACC website, the Phil Williams Applied Research Award is “presented for a significant body of distinguished contributions to the application of science in the cereals area.”

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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