Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“The results are essentially meaningless:” Typos, missing variables found throughout physics paper

with 4 comments

A physics journal has retracted a 2014 paper after a reader discovered a slew of errors.

The paper, published in the Journal of Thermophysics and Heat Transfer, explored how the properties of nanofluidsfluids that contain nanoparticles—change as the fluid moves through different materials.  

According to the editor-in-chief, Greg Naterer, an outside expertAsterios Pantokratoras, based at Democritus University of Thrace in Greececontacted the journal in May 2017 after discovering “errors with symbols in equations and figures.” The journal investigated the concerns and reached out to the paper’s corresponding author V. Ramachandra Prasad at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science in India for a response; after several rounds of comments from Pantokratoras and Prasad, the journal concluded that the paper should be retracted.

Naterer explained:

As a result, and after reviewing the analysis by Prof. Pantokratoras, it was believed that the results were questionable and could not be relied upon…

Here’s the retraction notice for “Heat and Mass Transfer of Nanofluid from Horizontal Cylinder to Micropolar Fluid:”

Based on a detailed investigation of this article [http://dx.doi.org/10.2514/1.T4396], it is believed that the results in the paper are potentially seriously flawed. Therefore, the results and conclusions should not be relied upon. This retraction has been initiated by the publisher.

In addition to numerous typographical errors that were found throughout the article, several missing terms and variables were identified following publication. Typographical errors were repeated many times in figures. Although the research methodology followed a standard procedure, from the perspective of someone reading the paper, the reader would not know there are many symbol errors, typographical errors, and incorrect symbols in the article, leading to misinterpretation of the results. It was believed that an erratum would not adequately clarify and correct the significant number of unresolved issues and errors.

Professor Asterios Pantokratoras from the Democritus University of Thrace in Greece is gratefully acknowledged for his detailed analysis and comments on this article.

The paper has been cited six times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (four times by the authors).

The paper focused on nanofluids, which can transfer heat or energy more effectively than other liquids and have potential applications as coolants. The authors claimed they had developed a model with “applications in energy systems.”

However, Pantokratoras told us that given the errors, he believes “the results are essentially meaningless.”

In the analysis he sent to the journal, Pantokratoras identified two parameters that the authors used in many figures but failed to define in the paper. According to Pantokratoras, when he asked the authors about these parameters, the authors told him they are “typographical errors.” In his letter to the journal, Pantokratoras wrote:

It is the first time in my career that I see a typo repeated 11 times and another typo repeated 11 times…

We asked the journal how the mistakes got past the editor and reviewers. Naterer told us:

The article was originally accepted in 2014 after a thorough review process by experts in the field and then published in Jan. 2015.

We also asked Prasad if he agreed with the assessment in the retraction notice and if he could explain the typographical errors and how they arose. In response, Prasad sent us a page of mathematical proofs and told us:

We are going to give more replies. Please give us some time.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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Comments
  • ICC October 12, 2017 at 11:39 am

    This is an important step in the right direction. But, sadly, it is a drop in the proverbial bucket. Dozens of these so-called papers appear online in so-called journals every day!

    The community must get on the same page and put a stop to this. I regularly speak to editors vociferously against publishing such meaningless works. Unfortunately, most of the time, they are not receptive to logical arguments because a) they don’t care and/or b) the journals collect fees from these authors, so there’s no reason to reject a paper.

  • Narad October 14, 2017 at 12:57 am

    I suppose that bringing back the quaint practice of employing competent copy editors is out of the question.

  • herr doktor bimler October 14, 2017 at 7:44 am

    A physics journal has retracted a 2014 paper after a reader discovered a slew of errors.

    There is no sign of retraction on the journal’s website. Access to the paper is still for sale.

    “Gort Engovation Research”?!

  • Lee Rudolph October 14, 2017 at 10:42 am

    herr doktor bimler
    “Gort Engovation Research”?!

    “Engovation” is perhaps derived from the verb “to gove”, defined by the OED as “To stare idly or vacantly; to gaze, gape, gawp.” As to “Gort”, klaatu barada nikto.

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