Best Of Retractions, Part I: Water, water, everywhere, except in “Historical Palestine,” aka Israel

Although Retraction Watch might have been born just before yesterday, we find it instructive to look back in time for items we would have covered had we been around a bit longer. We’ll do this periodically to generate a “Best Of” collection of retractions that catch our eye both for what they might suggest about scientific publishing and for good old-fashioned  interest. Here’s the first installment:

A furtive attempt to play politics with a galley proof led to the retraction of a paper on Middle East water policy a few months ago. The article, “Optimizing irrigation water use in the West Bank, Palestine,” appeared in the February 2010 issue of Agricultural Water Management, an Elsevier journal. Written by Palestinian and Dutch researchers, the article modeled various scenarios of water and crop policies in the West Bank in an effort to determine the most efficient use of resources.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the printer. The authors decided to make a political protest of sorts in the galleys, a ham-handed gesture that led to the retraction of the paper, as the journal explained in a note:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief. Please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

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.

We won’t speculate on whether the editors objected less to the nature of the text change than fact of the switch itself. But it is interesting to note that Reed Elsevier Ventures, an arm of the media company—which has a British-Dutch pedigree—has been an active investor in Israeli businesses. And Reed Elsevier and Israeli businessman Noam Lanir hold controlling interest in the translation software firm — wait for it — Babylon.

2 thoughts on “Best Of Retractions, Part I: Water, water, everywhere, except in “Historical Palestine,” aka Israel”

  1. Very cute allusions to various cradles of civilization.

    Babylon, the land of two rivers, is the probable birthplace of the patriarch Abraham, who migrated to Jericho, which is in Judea, which was until 1967 administered by Jordan and is in what some today refer to as [contemporary] Palestine and is administered by Israel and the Palestinian Authority and has disputed status, which is distinct from historical Palestine and is populated by Arabs and Jews, not Moabites and Edomites and Philistines and Jews.

    The authors may wish to review their history books. And as for the editors, they did the right thing. Unless we wish to next abandon “Minnesota” in favor of “historical Chippewa territory.”

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