Group in China earns nearly a dozen retractions for image duplication, forged authorship, and more

A group of materials scientists in China has earned 11 retractions and three corrections — so far — for image manipulation, duplication, deceptive authorship and other misconduct.

The papers, from a group at the prestigious Tsinghua University, appeared in a variety of materials journals and date back to 2014. The most recent publications arrived in 2016.

[Please see an update on this post.]

The notices read pretty much the same way. Here, for example, is the retraction statement for “Effects of high-energy electro-pulsing treatment on microstructure, mechanical properties and corrosion behavior of Ti–6Al–4V alloy,” which was published in 2015 in Materials Science and Engineering C, an Elsevier title:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor.

Figure 5 duplicates figure 8 of the article that had already appeared in Materials Characterization 98 (2014) 147–161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.matchar.2014.10.026, figure 12 of the paper that had appeared in Applied Physics A 117 (2014) 2251-2264, http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00339-014-8655-1, as well as panels from figure 12 of the article that had appeared in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds 616 (2014) 173–183, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jallcom.2014.07.143.

Figure 6 duplicates figure 9 of the article that had already appeared in Materials Characterization 98 (2014) 147–161, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.matchar.2014.10.026 and figure 13 of the article that had appeared in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds 616 (2014) 173–183, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jallcom.2014.07.143.

Figure 7 duplicates figure 10 of the article that had already appeared in Surface & Coatings Technology 258 (2014) 467–484, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.surfcoat.2014.08.052.

One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents an abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

Journal records indicate that confirmation of the submission and publication of the article was sent to the first author’s email address, in addition to an email that used the corresponding author’s name (guoyitangforwork@163.com).

The corresponding author and the first author wish to mention that the co-author Zion T.H. Tse was not involved in the preparation and handling of this article. He was not informed about the publication and he did not grant the use of his name and affiliation in the publication.

Prof. S. Petter Lyngstadaas, Dr. Hanna Tiainen and Dr. Sebastian Geissler from University of Oslo are acknowledged for the considerable effort put into collecting the evidence and reporting this case of multiple publication.)

Guoyi Tang’s name appears on all of the articles in question, which have been cited as often as 21 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

‘An easy but very multifaceted case’

So how were these problems spotted?

Tiainen, one of the people credited with figuring out what went wrong, tells Retraction Watch that

…this was an easy but very multifaceted case of scientific misconduct that turned out into quite a complicated investigation by the journals and publishers involved in the case.

It all started, said Tiainen,

when we received persistent requests from a  reviewer to cite totally irrelevant articles as part of the peer review process for our own paper. It was quite obvious that the reviewer in question was just fishing for citations for their latest publications (not the first and certainly not the last time this has happened) but this time the reviewer was so pushy that I decided to have a bit closer look on the papers the reviewer was pressuring us to cite.

Tiainen realized that

two of the papers contained identical results and with a bit more digging, I found in total 16 published papers (thanks to excessive self-citing by the authors) that kept recycling the same results but with rearranged and slightly reedited figure panels…

Tiainen and colleagues reported the problems to the editors of the relevant journals.

There are still [a] few of these papers with serious issues (same images used in different papers describing entirely different materials, identical images depicting different samples) that have not yet been retracted.

Tse is an engineer at the University of Georgia, where he works on advanced medical devices.

An email to author Tang received no reply, as did one to the dean of the college of engineering at Tsinghua. [See comments below.] According to this biographical sketch for a paper he presented at a 2016 conference, Tang

is professor of materials science, Advanced Materials Institute of Graduate School at Shenzhen, Tsinghua University, where he teaches courses in materials science frontier and engineering materials: performance, selection and design. He accumulated years of research experience when working as a visiting professor in Stuttgart University and Max-Planck Institute, Germany, University of Alaska Fairbanks and North Carolina State University, USA, and Nanyang Technology University, Singapore. His recent research interests focus on electroplastic processing technology, phase change materials, biomass and bio-degradable polymer composites, and etc. He has published more than 120 scientific papers and obtained 35 Chinese patents.

Oh, and the paper he presented? It has been retracted:

This article has been retracted as it plagiarizes part of the text that appeared in the article published by J.K. Park et al in Advanced Materials, 22 (2010) 4857–4861, 10.1002/adma.201002255.One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. As such this article represents an abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.Journal records indicate that confirmation of the submission and publication of the article was sent to the first author’s email address, in addition to an email that used the corresponding author’s name (tangguoyiforwork@163.com).The corresponding author and the first author wish to mention that the co-author Zion T.H. Tse was not involved in the preparation and handling of this article. He was not informed about the publication or granted the use of his name and affiliation in the publication.

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13 thoughts on “Group in China earns nearly a dozen retractions for image duplication, forged authorship, and more”

  1. Please also see
    “RETRACTED: Enhanced grain refinement and microhardness of Ti–Al–V alloy by electropulsing ultrasonic shock”
    https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jallcom.2014.09.192

    Not yet in your database.

    Other papers have been questioned in PubPeer threads, but perhaps they have not come to the attention of the journals’ editors. For instance,
    “Enhancement of ductility, weakening of anisotropy behavior and local recrystallization in cold-rolled Ti-6Al-4V alloy strips by high-density electropulsing treatment”
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/899A65F297048145727C6E3C58F1A4

    See
    https://pubpeer.com/search?q=Guoyi+Tang

  2. “An email to author Tang received no reply, as did one to the dean of the college of engineering at Tsinghua.”

    1. There is no such thing as “college of engineering” at Tsinghua University. It has a couple of engineering schools focusing on different individual aspects of engineering, such as School of Aerospace Engineering, and School of Materials Science and Engineering, etc. Not sure which “college of engineering” you had contacted.

    2. Professor Guoyi Tang, the corresponding author on these retracted papers, does not work in the main campus of Tsinghua University, but at its Graduate School at Shenzhen, where Shenzhen is a city next to Hong Kong, some 1300 miles away from the main campus of Tsinghua University in Beijing. This Graduate School at Shenzhen is literally a seperate campus under pretty much a different administration infrastructure. The two campuses together are under the umbrella of the University. You will need to either contact the head of the university or the dean’s office of its Graduate School at Shenzhen. You may find someone to contact on the following pages:
    Graduate School at Shenzhen:
    https://www.tsinghua.edu.cn/publish/szen/7413/index.html

    Main campus in Beijing:
    http://www.tsinghua.edu.cn/publish/thu2018en/newthuen_cnt/01-about-4.html

    The academic committee of Tsinghua University (sorry, no English version, also they do not take email, there’s a phone number you can try to call, but good luck) :
    http://www.tsinghua.edu.cn/publish/xswyh/9982/2017/20170707151952569563555/20170707151952569563555_.html

          1. That is a Taiwan site.
            There is a Tsinghua in Mainland China, and a Tsinghua in Taiwan, the latter is generally referred to as National Tsinghua University, hence ‘nthu’ and ‘tw’ in the URL.
            The name of the person is also spelled using a system not used on the Mainland, and is probably the Wade-Giles style, not the mainland Pinying style.

      1. There are two independent Tsinghua University. One is in Taiwan, China, and the other is in Beijing, Mainland China. They are spinoffs of the Tsinghua University in Beijing China.

        When you talk about China, you have to pay attention to twin organizations in Taiwan and Mainland China.

      2. Hi Ivan

        Your link is to National Tsing Hua University at Taiwan, rather than the Tsinghua University in Mainland China.

        The links I provided are those for Tsinghua University in Mainland China.

        thanks
        OT

      3. No, this is not the Tsinghua University mentioned in this report. The misconducted Tang is a faculty in Tsinghua, China. The one you posted here is the one in Taiwan. They are the same origin but separated after 1949.

  3. Despite the Retraction Notice for “Effect of electropulsing treatment on the microstructure, texture, and mechanical properties of cold-rolled Ti–6Al–4V alloy”, there is no indication of this at the journal’s link for the original paper:
    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-materials-research/article/effect-of-electropulsing-treatment-on-the-microstructure-texture-and-mechanical-properties-of-coldrolled-ti6al4v-alloy/C872547E25E0FD7F0B6778D57ABEC174

    Access to the paper still costs £25.00 at the time of writing.

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