Hazardous materials: Elsevier retracts 11 chemistry papers from Brazilian group, citing fraud

The publisher Elsevier has announced that it is retracting 11 papers from a team of Brazilian researchers over concerns that the scientists committed fraud in the studies.

The notice is pegged to an October 2009 article in the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science titled “Immobilization of 5-amino-1,3,4-thiadiazole-thiol onto kanemite for thorium(IV) removal: Thermodynamics and equilibrium study” by Denis L. Guerra, Marcos A. Carvalho, Victor L. Leidens, Alane A. Pinto, Rúbia R. Viana, and Claudio Airoldi.

According to the notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

Reason: This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors of the Journal of Colloid and Interface Science as fraudulent results have been found in this article and other publications in Elsevier journals by the same authors, namely

– Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 337 (2009) 122–130

– Inorganic Chemistry Communications 12 (2009) 1145–1149

– Journal of Environmental Radioactivity 101 (2010) 122–133

– Process Safety and Environmental Protection 88 (2010) 53–61

– Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids 70 (2009) 1413–1421

– Applied Surface Science 256 (2009) 702–709

– Inorganic Chemistry Communications 11 (2008) 20–23

– Inorganic Chemistry Communications 12 (2009) 1107–1111

– Journal of Hazardous Materials 172 (2009) 507–514

– Journal of Hazardous Materials 171 (2009) 514–523

– Journal of Colloid and Interface Science 338 (2009) 30–39

Publication of an article in a peer-reviewed journal is an important building-block in the development of science. Elsevier has defined policies and ethical guidelines that have to be obeyed by authors and editors and Elsevier takes its duties of guardianship over the scholarly record extremely seriously.

The Editors of the Elsevier journals involved found that the allegations of fraud are conclusive and they have decided that these papers should be retracted from the journals.

A search of Medline revealed several other papers by the Brazilians that do not appear to have been retracted, including more in the Journal of Hazardous Materials published as recently as last month, “Organofunctionalized Amazon smectite for dye removal from aqueous medium–kinetic and thermodynamic adsorption investigations.”

We spoke with Diana Aga, the new editor of the hazmat journal. She just came on board the masthead, so didn’t have much to say about the case. But she did add that another retraction is on the way, although she referred us to a colleague for more information. We tried to reach that person, but didn’t succeed.

Thomas Reller, a top spokesman for Elsevier, agreed to dig into the matter for us but said it would take some time to contact the proper people. Still, we appreciate his willingness to help, and will update with anything we hear.

Most of the papers have received minimal attention from other researchers. However, the 2008 paper in Inorganic Chemistry Communications, “Performance of modified montmorillonite clay in mercury adsorption process and thermodynamic studies,” has been cited 31 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Science.

We reached senior author Airoldi, of the State University of Campinas, by email. According to the researcher, sometime last year a young scientist at in Portugal accused Airoldi’s group of having fabricated nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) images in the 11 papers, particularly for carbon and silica. The spectra used in the images was wrong, said the scientist, whom Airoldi called “an expert in this technique.” Airoldi said he was “only a user of the technique,” and had “never used this wrong way.”

The papers were among approximately 21 that Airoldi wrote with Guerra, then a former graduate student, who is now at Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso. We have attempted to reach him for comment but have yet to receive a reply. Airoldi, for his part, claims to have more than 400 publications, and says he invited the Portuguese scientist to scrutinize them for evidence of fraud but received no response from the whistleblower.

Airoldi said he stands by the work. He defended himself and Guerra, saying they did “not fabricate the spectra.” The Portuguese researcher, he claimed, pushed Elsevier “in [the] direction” of a fraud judgement.

Meanwhile, he said by email:

Now I am in bad condition in my University and maybe some restrictions will reach me.

Hat tip Marco van de Weert. Please see an update with a comment from Elsevier.

20 thoughts on “Hazardous materials: Elsevier retracts 11 chemistry papers from Brazilian group, citing fraud”

    1. Compare the noise pattern of the different NMR figures and you will see that all the papers are fake. You can even see the same spectra over different papers sometimes. And also the same noise pattern. I have no doubts that the authors did a slice, copy and paste work to build their NMR data and it seems clear from their figures even without paying much attention. Do not need to be an NMR expert to identify the fraude, because, fortunately, the authors made the mistake to copy and paste the same noise pattern and the peak deails sometimes.

      Well done for having discovered this fraud.

  1. As a Brazilian researcher I am ashamed by this…And this came from someone who is ranked as a top researcher in the field from Brazilian standards. Shame on him!

  2. I believe that any fraud in the scientific field should be punished strictly, primarily to be used as an example. However, many times the supervisor is unable to monitor in detail the work of each student under his guidance. In this case, considering the brilliant career of the Brazilian professor, seems to be really just a case of guilt by the student.

    1. Emerson, what do you mean by a “brilliant career”? Publishing over 400 papers is a measure of brilliance? More importantly, Airoldi still denies fraud and stands by the work, and by signing as a coauthor he is assuming a responsibility. I have no doubt about the fraud and cannot blame only the student: each author has a responsibility. I do think the 400 papers should be scrutinized.

  3. In fact, there should be some more attention drawn to these cases in Brazil. Many people still pretend this and other cases never happened. Consider the recent case of Leonardo Gomes.

    Instead of being ashamed of our bad authors we should seek that they get punished, and show the world how Brazil is fighting off scientific fraud. Yet, many support Leonardo Gomes and Airioldi because of political reasons.

    This is what we ought to be ashamed of.

  4. Actually it is not only the NMR but also the XRD data that are subject to fraud.
    I took the liberty to look at 6 papers from the first author: the exact same spectra are used in different papers but claimed to be different materials. Even worse some peaks have been drawn on similar spectra (exact same noise) just to make the point.

    Shame on the authors… not only the first one but all co-authors as it is their job to look at that!

    1. I agree with Nico about the responsability of all coauthors and on the clearness of this case of fraud. I would also like to add that, more than half a year after stating that 11 papers contain fraudulent results, Elsevier has effectively retracted only 6 of those papers. What are they waiting for before retracting the rest? The retracted papers and even the retraction notices are kept in sciencedirect.com behind a paywall. Also, I wonder about the results of an investigation purportedly undertaken by UNICAMP, one of the universities involved in this case of massive fraud. Does anyone knows?

      1. A few of the retraction notices are in the “in press” stage. Some journals have a significant “backlog”, i.e. a long list of other papers that are first on the “to publish” list, which may explain that it has taken such long time for these retractions to come out.

      2. Marcus, so far the retracted papers are only 6. For three of them the retraction notice is already published, for other two the notice is available in the web as “In press, Corrected Proofs”, and the last one, apparently, has no retraction notice specifically associated (or I could not find it). The remaining five papers have not been effectively retracted, despite Elsevier declared more than half a year ago that they contain fraudulent results. Today I got the five papers through sciencedirect.com (I have an institutional subscription, otherwise I would have to pay some 40 bucks). There is no indication that these five papers have been retracted:
        – Inorganic Chemistry Communications 12 (2009) 1145–1149
        – Process Safety and Environmental Protection 88 (2010) 53–61
        – Journal of Physics and Chemistry of Solids 70 (2009) 1413–1421
        – Applied Surface Science 256 (2009) 702–709 retracted,
        – Inorganic Chemistry Communications 11 (2008) 20–23
        – Inorganic Chemistry Communications 12 (2009) 1107–1111
        Three of these non-retracted papers were published in Inorganic Chemistry Communications “an international journal dedicated to the rapid publication of short communications”. Well, they may be rapid in publishing short communications but not so fast in retracting them.
        I understand it may take time to make sure that a paper contains fraudulent results. But once this is sure, I don’t understand the delay in making effective the retraction.

      3. Sorry, I listed the Applied Surface Science paper (which is retracted) among the non-retracted papers. The non retracted papers still amount to six. Another clarification: without a subscription the cost is around 40 bucks EACH, of course.

    2. Since a thread is developing on PubPeer [1], I posted a figure [2] with 6 identical XRD patterns, which are dispatched in 6 unrelated papers, as claimed by commenter Nico. Should be at least 7 papers now, because the Nico’s comment is 3 years old. An important point is, I think, that these spectra were published over a 12-years period.

      [1] https://pubpeer.com/publications/AB1D7343C8D49CA68B6FD1E0B87471
      [2] http://i.imgur.com/4swOCJT.png

  5. I would always ask readers that have taken their time scrutinizing prospective fraudulent papers to also take a couple of minutes more to bring theirs finds to the relevant editors. If you want to remain anonymous, just create a hushmail account. To really make a point, have a marked .pdf file showing the evidence in colour. This only takes some 30 mins to get set, and makes a hell of a difference.

    Additionally, uploading the marked .pdf report to places like the Abnormal Science Blog and making files freely available by 4shared also contributes a lot to the scientific community.

      1. At least in my view, Guerra was mainly responsible (the one who manipulated the data), while Airoldi was at best negligent as a supervisor and PI (not requesting original data etc). All retractions had the same first author (Guerra), which in my view means that this person is particularly dishonest. If misconduct was a common practice in Ailroldi’s lab, he probably would also get retractions from others students (as we saw in Curi’s case).

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