Three more chemistry papers fall to “serious errors” of unknown nature

Back in March, we reported that the journal Computational and Theoretical Chemistry (CTC) had retracted a pair of 2006 papers by a group of Iranian researchers. As the notices stated, the scientists had recalled their articles after detecting “serious errors” with the work post-publication.

At the time, the authors still had three other articles in good standing with CTC. No longer.

CTC has retracted the remaining three papers by the group, for the same “serious errors.” The articles appeared between 2007 and 2009, and were titled:

The first two papers have not been cited by other work, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The third has been cited five times.

The papers (which were published when the journal was titled Journal of Molecular Structure: THEOCHEM) included a core group of four authors, Siavash Riahi, Abdolmajid Bayandori Moghaddam, Parviz Norouzi and Mohammad Reza Ganjali. The researchers work variously at the University of Tehran and Tehran University of Medical Sciences.

When we spoke with CTC editor Ajit Thakkar earlier this year, he told us that the authors hadn’t informed him whether the errors were simply mistakes or something worse. He had the same to say when we spoke with him about the latest retractions.

There is nothing new.

Thakkar reiterated his opinion that the issues with the articles likely involved incompetence, not fraud, although he acknowledged again that it’s often hard to tell the difference.

Thakkar said the first author, Riahi, has been the one communicating with his journal. We have tried to contact him by email but so far have not received a reply.

Now, we certainly understand that editors and publishers cannot force authors to be forthcoming about the reasons for a retraction. But in this case, we think readers of CTC and the other journals in the specialty deserve to know more about what went wrong here. We think it’s fair to say that after five retractions involving serious errors, the entire body of work of all of these authors should be subject to scrutiny.

Should that devolve to readers and researchers? Perhaps, but that doesn’t seem like a very efficient — or effective — solution to the problem. And it doesn’t suggest that the journal is pushing for transparency as much as they’d like readers to think they are.

We have a solution. Journals, we’ve noted with disappointment, often seem content to take their lead from institutions when it comes to misconduct investigations. But they’re very powerful, and the threat of not being able to publish in them is a real one. The clinical trials registry, for example, is accomplishing change in a field long dogged by a lack of transparency.

So why can’t journals require, as a condition of submission, that authors notify editors of any investigations into their work, and give a full accounting of those investigations? Ivan suggested that last month at the Council of Science Editors meeting in Baltimore.

Journals, the ball is in your court.

Hat tip: Marco van de Weert

0 thoughts on “Three more chemistry papers fall to “serious errors” of unknown nature”

  1. It’s evident that the peer review isn’t enough. And that when a scientist has too much papers(82!) the review is very light. Very often the referees look the names and not the work.

  2. Ivan, why not contact the responsible Elsevier person about this uninformative response from the Editor? Elsevier is usually quite strict on the retraction issue, so maybe a little bit of pressure from higher up can get journals to finally come with a more informative retraction (some journals do).

    Oh, and it’s Marco van de Weert. I’m a bit picky on the spelling of my name…sorry.

    1. Fixed, and no need for you to apologize. Sorry about that!

      Good call on contacting Elsevier — we’ll update if we get any response.

      1. Marco: We asked Elsevier for comment, and they said they had nothing to add beyond what the CTC editor has already said.

  3. Dear retraction watch team
    First of all, I would like to congratulate your site for providing such important and helpful information about the articles for academic societies. However, I was deeply disappointed and sad when I saw your comment which was recently publish entitled: ”the purpose of keeping these retraction notices slim is not to produce too much detail. ” about our group research in your weblog. Therefore, I have to discuss some points about it.
    1- Our main research group have been worked and specialized in electrochemistry area for more than 20 years, and in some cases collaborate with other research groups, in parts that need experimental electrochemical data (such as Riahi group, who works theoretical research). Consequently, we are not responsible about the outcome of their work, and I think it was not fair at all, to use words such as tantalizingly cryptic or fabricated data or … , which can induce a negative image about us. Besides, you may know that in all over the world in an interdisciplinary research works, each author is responsible of a part of the work, in which he is more expert on it. The authors of such joint works should trust to each other to do a useful work.
    2. Due to this fact that our research group works in different fields such as design and construction of new electrochemical techniques and devices, microsensors, nanomaterials, electrosynthesis, biophysics, biochemistry, optodes, computational chemistry and chemometrics. Some members of our team are export in their field, and have been collaborated with many journals as editors and referees, for a long period of time. Therefore, such unjustified and harsh judgment about our article may harm the trust and the reputation of your weblog among the scientific communities that see your website.
    3. About these retractions, the corresponding author should answer. As it is obvious, I am not expert in chemometrics methods. Also, If the retraction notices had been “pretty slim”, why the journal have not asked for more reasons.
    Second, I have not received any email from you and the editor of THEOCHEM, yet. So, mention such comment, was not appropriate act, since you had not known about the accomplishment of the mail delivery.
    Finally, I hope you don’t consider the above comments criticizing your weblog, and consider them as our response to protect our reputation and honest work among scientific communities. We have to defend our scientific research group who work under very difficult political, economical conditions for having a small contribution in the knowledge production of the world. And I am sure that you understand the situation and helping us in this manner.
    Mohammad Reza Ganjali
    Professor in Analytical Chemistry
    Analytical and Bioanalytical Electrochemistry

    Center of Excellence in Electrochemistry
    University of Tehran
    Tehran , Iran

    1. Dear Prof. Ganjali,
      I cannot imagine to put my name in a paper that I do not know anything about that! All of authors are responsible for their work not just corresponding author. Usually, a corresponding or CONTACT author is the person who is responsible for contacting journal. I read some of your papers in which you were the corresponding author and found serious problems in them for instance see Sensors, 2007, 7, 3119. Or J. Braz. Chem. Soc. 2007, 18, 352. In these papers you and your colleagues reported strange data for bond energies. Energies as big as 29000 kJ per mole! Such data are absolutely meaningless. In my view every chemist knows about the usual bond energy range, isn’t it?

  4. Apart from these retracted papers, Riahi et al have received harsh comments by P. Winget on their published papers in Chem. Phys. 337 (2007) 33-38 and J. Theoret. Comput. Chem. 6 (2007) 331.
    Unfortunately, there are strange claims in papers by M. Ganjali himself. When I read his papers I feel he is always in hurry and just wants to get a paper published (for instance see his review in Sensors, 8, 2008, 1645, the structures of molecules in figures 22, 24, 25 and 26 are wrong! I do believe that a even an average highschool student will not draw oxygen with 4 valances!). Based on Scopus he has published more than 500 papers! I cannot understand how one can publish such a huge number of papers in about 15 years…

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