Duplicate publication and apparent guest authorship force retractions of two math papers

Two math journals have recently retracted two papers that share most of their text — and their first author.

The two papers were “Unsteady flows of an Oldroyd-B fluid in a cylindrical domain for a given shear stress,” in Applied Mathematics and Computation, and A note on longitudinal flows of an Oldroyd-B fluid due to a prescribed shear stress,” in Mathematical and Computer Modelling. The studies were published online last year, but hadn’t made it into a print issue yet.

Both retraction notices, which appeared within the space of a few weeks in late February and early March, say the same thing — that is to say, nothing at all, really:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author(s) and/or editor. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy.

So what was wrong with the original reports?The two papers treated the same problem essentially the same way, then kept the abstract, introduction, discussion, and most references exactly the same. That would probably be enough to earn a retraction, but usually only of the second paper, not both. And it would also usually be mentioned in a straightforward way in the notice. So we figured there was something else going on.

We asked several of the authors of both papers for an explanation. The only one who got back to us was Amir Mahmood, of the department of mathematics at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology and the Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences of GC University, both in Lahore, Pakistan. Mahmood, corresponding author of the Mathematical and Computer Modelling paper, wrote:

Thanks for your email. The paper was written by the first author “M. Jamil” and he put my name (being my colleague). It was fault of all of the authors of the paper. We, all the authors, will not do this type of “CRIME” again. Furthermore I have declared that, in future, I will not be the co-author of the authors in the paper “A note on longitudinal flows of an Oldroyd-B fluid due to a prescribed shear stress”.

If admit my mistake, and ready to correct myself and agree to be honest in future in this regard. If one accept and admits his/her mistake whole , then he/she should be given one chance to correct himself/herself. Isn’t it?

We’d agree that admitting a mistake and taking corrective action should earn authors some points, and a second chance, if this was a first transgression. But we had more questions for Mahmood, namely what he meant by this being the “fault of all of the authors.” Was this a case of dodgy guest authorship? He didn’t respond to our follow-up email. Neither Jamil nor the editor of Mathematical and Computer Modelling has gotten back to us either.

We asked E. Y. Rodin, editor of Mathematical and Computer Modelling, about the retractions. His response:

Thank you for your message.  We receive many comments and much information, which are designated confidential for the Editor-In-Chief only.  Furthermore, we provide information only to the authors involved, or to the relevant reviewers.

We appreciate your understanding in this matter.

This is the same exact response we received when we asked Rodin about two questionable papers he published as editor of Applied Mathematical Letters. You can read more about those papers — which claimed that “both science and spirituality came from space,” and that the second law of thermodynamics had been violated, respectively — here.

Hat tip: Ivan Christov

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