Over the past few weeks, you’d have been forgiven for wondering if the name of this blog should be “Plagiarism Watch” instead of Retraction Watch. Just take a look at all of the recent plagiarism cases:
That last example inspired this poll. When we brought an example of likely plagiarism by the same author to the attention of one journal editor, he was nonplussed. “[A]s all editors know there are rarely absolutely clear cut issues in which the line is unequivocally drawn in the sand,” said the editor-in-chief of Biomaterials, David Williams of Wake Forest. (Williams also suggested that the relative obscurity of the plagiarizers’ institution, and of the journal where they published, meant the case wasn’t worth investigating.)
Reason: During the second revision of the manuscript, the authors modified Figure 1 (changing the label from “Israel” to “Historical Palestine”), apparently with the goal of inserting a political statement into a scientific journal article. The authors did not inform the editors or the publisher of this change in their manuscript. As such, the authors have not lived up to the standards of trust and integrity that form the foundation of the peer-review process. The Editors-in-Chief take a very strong view on this matter and, hence, the retraction of the article from publication in Agricultural Water Management.
One of the paper’s authors, Jatinder Ahluwalia, hadn’t signed the retraction, and the notice referred to “Supplementary Information” that hadn’t yet been made available. Today, University College London (UCL) posted that supplementary information, which was the report of a panel that investigated charges of research misconduct against Ahluwalia. That report fills in a lot of details about what preceded the retraction.
If a plagiarist plagiarizes from an author who herself has plagiarized, do we call it a wash and go for a beer?
That scenario is precisely what Steven L. Shafer found himself facing recently. Shafer, editor-in-chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia (A&A), learned that authors of a 2008 case report in his publication had lifted two-and-a-half paragraphs of text from a 2004 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.
A contrite retraction letter, which appears in the December issue of A&A, from the lead author, Sushma Bhatnagar, of New Delhi, India, called the plagiarism “unintended” and apologized for the incident. Straightforward enough.
Peer review isn’t a core subject of this blog. We leave that to the likes of Nature’s Peer-to-Peer, or even the Dilbert Blog. But it seems relevant to look at the peer review process for any clues about how retracted papers are making their way into press.
We’re not here to defend peer review against its many critics. We have the same feelings about it that Churchill did about democracy, aka the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. Of course, a good number of the retractions we write about are due to misconduct, and it’s not clear how peer review, no matter how good, would detect out-and-out fraud.
Still, peer review is meant as a barrier between low-quality papers and publication, and it often comes up when critics ask questions such as, “How did that paper ever get through peer review?”
Anil Potti, who resigned from his post at Duke today during an investigation into faked results, will likely have another retraction to his credit shortly. According to a Duke statement:
Dr. Potti’s collaborator, Joseph Nevins, Ph.D., has initiated a process intended to lead to a retraction request regarding a paper previously published in Nature Medicine. This process has been initiated due to concerns about the reproducibility of reported predictors, and their possible effect on the overall conclusions in this paper. Other papers published based on this science are currently being reviewed for any concerns. Continue reading Another update on Anil Potti: Co-author asks Nature Medicine to retract paper
…stepped down from his position at Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy Friday and took responsibility for the problems in his research, IGSP Director Huntington Willard wrote in an e-mail to IGSP staff.
Willard wrote that Potti “accepted full responsibility for a series of anomalies in data handling, analysis and management that have come under scrutiny in the past months.”
He said that investigations into Potti’s research will continue, as will IGSP’s examinations of Potti’s science.