Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“We would now catch” this conflict of interest: Hindawi journal retracts two papers

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A computer science journal has retracted two papers, after discovering “a conflict of interest between the handling editor and one of the authors.”

Matt Hodgkinson, head of research integrity at Hindawi Limited, which publishes the journal Scientific World Journal, told us that the conflict of interest stemmed from the fact that Zheng Xu, an author on both papers, and Xiangfeng Luo, the handling editor on the papers, were “frequent collaborators.”

Xu—who is based at The Third Research Institute of Ministry of Public Security in Shanghai—and Luo—a professor in the School of Computer Engineering and Science at Shanghai University—have co-authored dozens of papers together, including several that were cited in the now-retracted articles. Luo also told us that Xu was his former PhD student.

When Hindawi approached Xu about the conflict of interest, Xu told us he “fully agreed” to retract the articles but claimed there was another reason for the retraction involving a special issue in the journal. More on that in a moment.

Here’s the retraction notice for “The Design and Implementation of Postprocessing for Depth Map on Real-Time Extraction System:”

The Scientific World Journal has retracted the article titled “The Design and Implementation of Postprocessing for Depth Map on Real-Time Extraction System” [1]. The peer review of the article has been compromised, due to a conflict of interest between the handling editor and one of the authors.

The paper, published in 2014 and on which Xu is last author, has not yet been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Hodgkinson explained that, in 2015, the publisher made changes to the peer review verification process that “now protect against this kind of behavior:”

Since 2015, our editorial screening team at submission and our quality assurance team at acceptance verify author, reviewer, and editor identities and check for possible conflicts between the authors and editors/reviewers, among other checks.

For instance, Hodgkinson says, authors may not suggest reviewers or editors. For special issues, if guest editors have a conflict — such as Xu says he did when he was a guest editor for a special issue — a member of the editorial board of the journal will take over.

Given these changes, Hodgkinson told us “we would now catch” the issues.

Here’s the similarly worded notice for “Generating Personalized Web Search Using Semantic Context,” which was published in April 2015 but accepted for publication in August 2014, prior to the publisher’s peer review changes:

The Scientific World Journal has retracted the article titled “Generating Personalized Web Search Using Semantic Context” [1]. The peer review of the article has been compromised, due to a conflict of interest between the handling editor and one of the authors.

The paper, on which Xu is first author, not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

But Xu says he agreed to the retractions for a different reason. Xu told us that he initially submitted his two papers to a special issue in the journal and that he was also the lead guest editor for that special issue.

Hodgkinson provided additional context. He told us that in December 2013, Xu and Luo became guest editors for a special issue in the journal, but in September 2014, the publisher cancelled the special issue because “the editorial staff had some concerns about the editorial handling” of that issue. Later, in June 2016, the journal became aware of potential issues with Xu’s papers, which were “unconnected to the reasons for cancellation.”

Conflicts of interest can take many forms. We recently wrote about a case in which a peer reviewer failed to disclose his ties to the asbestos industry before reviewing a paper found that asbestos does not increase the risk of cancer. We’ve also explored whether a paper should be retracted if an author omits a conflict of interest.

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Written by Victoria Stern

September 8th, 2017 at 8:00 am

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