Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journal to assemble “senior editorial committee” to review paper that led to board resignations

with 19 comments

Following heavy criticism of its decision to correct — instead of retract — a paper accused of plagiarism, Scientific Reports is adding an editor’s note to the paper and forming a committee to review the case.

The 2016 paper in question has been accused of plagiarism by a researcher at Johns Hopkins, Michael Beer. Following the initial allegation, the journal decided to correct, not retract, the paper. After we covered the story, nearly two dozen Hopkins researchers threatened to resign if the journal didn’t retract the paper. This week, the journal reaffirmed its initial decision, and the resignations are pouring in.

Yesterday, Suzanne Farley, Executive Editor of Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group journal, sent us a statement:

Concerns about any paper we publish are of paramount importance to us.  We will be assembling a senior editorial committee to undertake a further assessment of this case and will also be seeking additional independent advice from external ethics experts.  Whilst these considerations take place, we will be adding an Editorial Note to the paper, which states:

Editor’s Note: Readers are alerted that this paper is subject to criticisms related to misrepresentation of the original contribution reported and of previous work. We are consulting with ethics experts and readers will be updated once this consultation is complete.

Beer has alleged that the 2016 paper, an application of an algorithm designed to better identify regulatory sequences in DNA, simply reworded his paper and used some of his equations, while making claims to novelty. Beer asked that the paper be retracted; the author of the paper has denied plagiarizing Beer’s work. The correction, issued at the end of 2016, explicitly credited Beer’s previous paper on the topic.

Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here. If you have comments or feedback, you can reach us at retractionwatchteam@gmail.com.

Written by Alison McCook

November 10th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Comments
  • rfg November 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    A positive step in the right direction.

    NPG should decide that corrections are to be reserved for correcting honest errors by the authors or production team, not for covering up ethical breaches by the authors.

    Applying this simple formula throughout the publishing industry would be the right thing to do and go a long way towards restoring faith in the scientific literature.

  • Akhlesh November 10, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    From instructions in 2013 to a reviewer from the editorial board of Scientific Reports: “To be considered for publication in Scientific Reports, a paper should be technically sound. Technical soundness refers to both methods and analysis, i.e. the methods must be appropriate and properly conducted, and the conclusions drawn must be fully supported by the data. Referees are asked not to make a judgement on the paper’s importance – we ask the scientific community to make this judgement themselves post-publication.

    “Scientific Reports, unlike other journals published by Nature Publishing Group, does not, therefore, require an advance within a given field, and there is no requirement for novelty or broad interest.”

    So, there is no requirement for novelty!

    • Steven Salzberg November 10, 2017 at 7:31 pm

      Yes, but there is a requirement for honesty. You can’t just lie and claim your result is novel when you stole it from someone else. Merely submitting a paper under these circumstances is fraud (and plagiarism).

      • Akhlesh November 11, 2017 at 7:44 am

        Indeed, honesty is required. But it is good to remember: Доверяй, но проверяй {Doveryai, no proveryai} (trust, but verify).

  • ICC November 11, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    More bureaucratic maneuvering to save face and stall the process.

    The situation is quite clear: an editor at Sci. Rep. can pay a fee and publish other’s work under his name. Pay-to-play. The community will not stand for it.

  • Tekija November 12, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Akhlesh
    “Scientific Reports, unlike other journals published by Nature Publishing Group, does not, therefore, require an advance within a given field, and there is no requirement for novelty or broad interest.”
    So, there is no requirement for novelty!

    Everything worked better when each journal had to pay for its activity with prescription income. They had to publish what is novel and, ideally, of broad interest. The call for open access opened a scientific Pandora’s box that seeded among other things megajournals that with increasing speed collude the literature with papers that eventually will mostly lack in novelty or broad interest just to get easy money. This year, Sci Rep already have published 22,557 papers….

  • Akhlesh November 12, 2017 at 2:03 pm

    Tekija: “Everything worked better when each journal had to pay for its activity with prescription income. They had to publish what is novel and, ideally, of broad interest. The call for open access opened a scientific Pandora’s box that seeded among other things megajournals that with increasing speed collude the literature with papers that eventually will mostly lack in novelty or broad interest just to get easy money. This year, Sci Rep already have published 22,557 papers….”

    1. Perhaps, Scientific Reports will have to refund, either completely or partially, the APC in case of a retraction. Hence, corrections will be preferable to retractions.

    2. I generally avoid citing articles from both Scientific Reports and PLOS One.

    • jxj November 12, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      1. Interesting hypothesis.
      2. That’s a bad policy. You should judge n article on its merits, not the journal it’s in. Lots of excellent articles have appeared in those journals, and plenty of terrible (including plagiarized or fraudulent ones) have appeared in the “good” journals.

      • Akhlesh November 12, 2017 at 6:05 pm

        JXJ: “That’s a bad policy. You should judge n article on its merits, not the journal it’s in. Lots of excellent articles have appeared in those journals, and plenty of terrible (including plagiarized or fraudulent ones) have appeared in the “good” journals.”

        Well, I disagree. If a journal doesn’t instruct its reviewers to assess novelty, I will avoid citing papers from that journal, in order that credit not be given to the wrong person(s). There are exceptions, when I know the authors.

        • Nahhf November 15, 2017 at 6:53 am

          You knowingly give your friends credit for unoriginal work? That’s bad.

          • Akhlesh November 15, 2017 at 7:04 am

            Says who? If I know the authors, I am in a position to know if their work is original or not.

  • Kai Henningsen November 13, 2017 at 2:43 am

    Akhlesh
    Well, I disagree. If a journal doesn’t instruct its reviewers to assess novelty, I will avoid citing papers from that journal, in order that credit not be given to the wrong person(s). There are exceptions, when I know the authors.

    And attitudes like this are why there are so few replications and negative results published.

    • Akhlesh November 13, 2017 at 3:57 am

      Kai Henningsen: “And attitudes like this are why there are so few replications and negative results published.”

      You have extrapolated a lot.

      A. Put the word “Replication” in the title of a paper to identify it as a replication, and explicitly cite the replicated study (or studies), and there should be no objection then.

      B. A negative result could have novelty, if other negative results on the same conclusion/conclusions have not been published.

  • Shi Liu November 14, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I have read the related news and even the two papers in dispute. I think a charge of “plagiarism”, intentional steeling credit from a previous work, is an over-blow because the previous work was not only referenced (ref. 33) but also cited multiple times in the paper accused with “plagiarism”. Thus, Scientific Reports has made a correct decision to allow the publication of a Correction which not only offered apology for any ambiguous presentations but also praised the previous work even with a reference in the abstract. On the other hand, retracting a paper with solid research advancements will not serve any benefit to science but may promote more disturbances in scientific communities.

    • Vladimir Svetlov November 14, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      One doesn’t “praise” other people’s work with references, it’s call acknowledgement and it’s not negotiable. What you seem to be referring to already corrected paper, not the original that fully earned the charge of plagiarism. SR Managing Editor admitted the fact of plagiarism, but argued whether or not the degree of plagiarism warranted a retraction. This Editor seems to be operating under an erroneous impression that there are degrees of plagiarism, just like there are fractional cases of pregnancy. With majority of the equations lifted from already published work, the article in SR is massively derivative, lacking any originality, and fairly illiterate. The only contributions it makes are to the authors’ CVs and SR’s bottom line.

      • Miguel Roig November 15, 2017 at 8:08 am

        Vladimir, I respectfully disagree with your position regarding ‘degrees of plagiarism’. There are, in fact, different types of plagiarism and varied degrees of seriousness of these types of malpractices. Surely, you will agree that plagiarizing one full sentence is not as serious as plagiarizing several paragraphs, or that merely plagiarizing snippets of text from different sources is not as serious as passing as one’s own someone else’s ideas. I tend to agree that in this case the original paper should have been retracted rather than corrected, but I strongly believe that each case should be decided based on its own (de)merits and not on some blanket rule.

    • Michael Beer November 16, 2017 at 11:53 am

      Shi Liu, I respectfully disagree. The original paper used our software, reformatted our equations (with probable intent to deceive, why else change variables if the code is already written?), used our language, and claims to “propose a new computational predictor called SVM-GKM via combining GKM with Support Vector Machines” (still in the corrected paper). This is an intentional attempt to claim credit for others work, and that is the definition of plagiarism. Giving our software a new name and claiming novelty is not “ambiguous language”.

  • Nahhf November 16, 2017 at 6:45 am

    Akhlesh
    Says who? If I know the authors, I am in a position to know if their work is original or not.

    How do you know your friends’ papers are original? You know enough of the field to judge their originality. How do you know strangers’ papers are original? You know enough of the field to judge their originality. Whether you personally know the authors is irrelevant. Thanks for perpetuating the old boys network.

    • Akhlesh November 16, 2017 at 9:38 am

      Nahhf: “How do you know your friends’ papers are original? You know enough of the field to judge their originality. How do you know strangers’ papers are original? You know enough of the field to judge their originality. Whether you personally know the authors is irrelevant. Thanks for perpetuating the old boys network.”

      Not everyone author I know is my friend (and some of those “old boys” in my network are old gals). I know enough about the areas of my research that I can judge originality of the papers of most people I know that are working in those areas. I very much hope that you will become less frustrated and feel less vulnerable (Nahhf?) soon.

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.