Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

When does “overlap” become plagiarism? Here’s what PLOS ONE decided

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Consider this: Fragments of a PLOS ONE paper overlap with pieces of other publications. The authors used them without credit and without quotation marks.

This sounds an awful lot like plagiarism — using PLOS‘s own standards, even. But the journal isn’t calling it plagiarism. They’ve labeled this an instance of “text overlap,” a spokesperson told us, based on the amount of material that the paper shares with others.

The last author — Carlo Croce, who has two retractions under his belt — denies that he plagiarized, and says that his university has cleared him of a plagiarism charge from an anonymous whistleblower.

PLOS fixed this case last year with a correction notice — not the common course of action for a case of confirmed plagiarism. Take a look at the notice for yourself:

Read the rest of this entry »

Correction cites “unreliable” data in paper by researchers at center of Duke lawsuit

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Journal of Biological ChemistryA researcher charged with embezzlement — and now the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit — has earned another correction, again citing “unreliable” data.

But this doesn’t appear to be a run-of-the-mill correction notice.

Firstly, it affects a paper co-authored by Erin Potts-Kant and William Foster, former Duke employees now being sued (along with Duke) for including fraudulent data in $200 million worth of federal grants. Secondly, the notice in the Journal of Biological Chemistry is four paragraphs long, and includes six figures — it would normally be considered a “mega-correction.” But lastly, even though the notice is labeled a “correction,” it’s not immediately apparent which aspects of the paper are being changed.

Here are some excerpts from the newest notice: Read the rest of this entry »

Patients Like Me privacy breach complaint sinks paper

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A journal has removed a paper after realizing it contained a verbatim quote from a patient that could reveal the patient’s identity. Reposting as our subscription software appears to be acting up again. Read the whole post here.

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 15th, 2016 at 3:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Social networking site privacy breach complaint prompts retraction

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patients-like-meA journal has removed a paper after realizing it contained a verbatim quote from a patient that could reveal the patient’s identity.

The journal learned of the slip-up after receiving a complaint from a social networking site for patients called PatientsLikeMe, which enables people with similar conditions to connect with each other. The retracted paper — ironically about automatically sanitizing private information on social networking sites — included a brief quote from an HIV-positive user of the site, containing specific dates and infections the patient had experienced.

The corresponding author of the study in Expert Systems and Applications confirmed to us that the letter from PatientsLikeMe about two lines of text in the study triggered its removal.

The journal has republished an updated version of the paper without the problematic text. 

Here’s an excerpt from the complaint, sent by Paul Wicks, Principal Scientist and Vice President of Innovation at PatientsLikeMe, to the researchers and the journal in December 2015: Read the rest of this entry »

Is it possible (or ethical) to have six first authors on a scientific paper?

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sci-eng-ethcIn many fields, first authors on scientific papers represent the person who’s performed the bulk of the research. Sometimes, that determination can be difficult to make, so we’ve seen many papers that list multiple first authors, noting that each contributed equally to the work. But is it possible — or ethical — to claim six authors all deserve top billing on a paper?

In a recent letter in Science and Engineering Ethics, Govindasamy Agoramoorthy — at Sengamala Thayaar Educational Trust Women’s College in India and Tajen University in Taiwan — flags a 2014 paper in The Plant Journal that lists six first authors, noting all “contributed equally to this work.”

As Agoramoorthy notes in “Multiple First Authors as Equal Contributors: Is It Ethical?“:  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

September 15th, 2016 at 11:30 am

Researcher who sued to stop retractions earns his 8th

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Mario Saad

Mario Saad

Mario Saad, a diabetes researcher who once sued to stop a publisher from retracting his papers, has just received his eighth retraction.

Critical Care has retracted a 2012 paper about treating sepsis, citing extensive similarities between figures within the paper and 10 others.

Here’s the full notice for “Diacerhein attenuates the inflammatory response and improves survival in a model of severe sepsis:” Read the rest of this entry »

Korean journal bans author for three years for plagiarism

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journal-of-the-korean-data-and-information-science-societyA  journal in Korea has banned a researcher from submitting papers for three years after an investigation found evidence of plagiarism.

The retraction notice for “Goodness-of-fit tests for a proportional odds model,” which appears in the Journal of the Korean Data and Information Science Society, cites an investigation by an academic ethics committee, but it’s unclear where this review panel was based. 

Since the original retraction notice is in Korean, we’ve got it translated by One Hour Translation. It reads: Read the rest of this entry »

Two more retractions bring bone researcher’s total to 12

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jbmrA bone researcher based in Japan with 10 retractions under his belt has retracted two more papers for similar reasons — problems with the underlying data, and including co-authors who didn’t participate in the project.

In both notices, Yoshihiro Sato is pegged as responsible for the content of the papers. The newly retracted research covers a long timespan — one paper was published in 2000, the other in 2013.

Here’s the first notice, issued by the Journal of Bone and Mineral ResearchRead the rest of this entry »

Columbia has settled a fraud case for $9.5M. Here’s why that’s important.

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John Thomas

John Thomas

This summer, Columbia University signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. government over a case filed under the False Claims Act (FCA), which enables whistleblowers to sue institutions on behalf of the government. Although this may seem like one of the many legal issues facing academic science recently, this case merits a closer look, says John R. Thomas, Jr., an attorney with Gentry Locke who represents whistleblowers in a variety of FCA cases – including a potentially landmark case against Duke University that we covered for Science. Thomas – who also authored a three-part Retraction Watch primer on how to file an FCA suit (“So You Want to Be a Whistleblower?” Part One, Part Two, Part Three) – tells us what we need to know about this latest FCA verdict.

As readers of Retraction Watch are unfortunately well aware, dishonesty in research comes in many forms. While we often focus on dishonesty in research itself, scientists and institutions may also defraud the government through a variety of administrative avenues, such as effort reporting (accounting for researcher time), improper cost accounting, and inflated facilities and administrative (F&A) costs.

We saw an example of this in July, when Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

September 14th, 2016 at 9:30 am

U.S. gov’t researchers withdraw climate paper after using pseudonyms

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adv-space-resClimate scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have withdrawn a study they wrote under eyebrow-raising pseudonyms.

The withdrawn paper, about predicting surface temperatures of planets, appeared in Advances in Space Research in August, 2015, and is authored by Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez.

Normally, a withdrawal wouldn’t raise our eyebrows, but climate scientist Gavin Schmidt pointed out on Twitter that the authors’ names are eerily similar to another pair who have published climate papers together: Ned Nikolov and Karl Zeller. Yes, that’s correct — Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez are Ned Nikolov and Karl Zeller spelled backwards. Nikolov and Zeller are currently listed as a physical scientist and a meteorologist, respectively, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The notice doesn’t state the reason for withdrawal, and Pascal Willis, editor-in-chief of Advances in Space Research from the Earth Physics Institute in Paris, France, referred us to the study’s authors for more information. Elsevier, which publishes Advances in Space Research, confirmed that the paper was retracted due to an “authorship issue” — namely, that the authors had used pseudonyms.

We used the contact information listed on the paper for “Den Volokin,” and got this response: Read the rest of this entry »