Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

A physics journal agreed to retract a paper several months ago. It’s still not retracted.

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A physics journal says it has planned for several months to retract a 2006 paper by a prominent researcher with multiple retractions, after a concerned reader notified the editor about extensive duplication.

But, more than seven months after receiving the complaint, the journal Thin Solid Films has not yet taken action.

So what’s taking so long?

According to the editor, Joseph Greene, the delay occurred because “the publication team missed the request.”

Duplication allegations have followed the paper’s corresponding author Naba K. Sahoo for the past few years. Sahoo, a top physicist in India, has already had seven papers retracted for duplication—five earlier this year (1, 2), and two last year.

Although we did not hear back from the journal or the publisher, Elsevier, forwarded email correspondence provide insights about the Thin Solid Films paper.

On Mar. 25, 2017, a reader (who asked us for confidentiality) contacted the editor about the 2006 paper. The reader alleged that the article, “Fractals and superstructures in gadolinia thin film morphology: Influence of process variables on their characteristic parameters,” duplicated figures and text from a 2005 paper in Applied Surface Science, “Characterization of microroughness parameters in gadolinium oxide thin films: A study based on extended power spectral density analyses.” Sahoo was also corresponding author on the Applied Surface Science paper.

In an email to the journal, the reader also noted that the journal and publisher seemed “reluctant” to take action, as the reader alleged it had received a complaint about the paper from another scientist several months prior.

The editor, Greene, responded the same day, acknowledging:

We, and the Editors of Applied Surface Science are aware of the matter you raised concerning Dr. Sahoo and are dealing with it. However, it takes time. No matter how obvious the violation appears, everyone deserves a chan[c]e to offer an explanation. In addition, as you can imagine, such authors do not reply rapidly.

On Oct. 3, 2017, Greene told the reader that the journal had decided to retract the paper several months ago, but had encountered a delay:

Unfortunately, the publication team missed the request during a period of changing from one platform to another.

Greene assured the reader that “The retraction will be online soon.”

The Thin Solid Films paper has been cited 31 times and the Applied Surface Science has been cited 48 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. The Thin Solid Films paperwhich does not cite the Applied Surface Science paperhas been cited four times since March 2017.

Several years ago, colleagues at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), part of Indian government’s Department of Atomic Energy, accused Sahoo of duplicating his papers. Sahoo made headlines earlier this year for getting into a fist fight with a scientist at BARC.

Sahoo, who is listed as the associate director of BARC’s physics group, is set to retire next year.

Update, 1500 UTC time, 11/28/17: The paper has now been retracted, though the notice does not specify the date.

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Written by Victoria Stern

November 16th, 2017 at 8:00 am

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