Physics paper retracted “on ethical grounds” — aka the data had already been published

There was a curious retraction published online last month in Physica Scripta, an Institute of Physics journal. The notice, for “Response of Cu 0.5 (Tl 0.5-y Hg y)Ba 2 Ca 3 Zn 2 Cu 2 O 12-δ (y =0, 0.15, 0.25 and 0.35) superconductors in electric and magnetic fields,” reads as follows:

The authors of this article wish to withdraw their paper on ethical grounds. The authors apologize for this and the paper has been retracted at their request. The withdrawal request was received from Adnan Younis.

The paper has been cited just once since being published in August of last year, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We’d never seen a paper withdrawn simply “on ethical grounds” before — legal issues, yes — so we wanted to know more.

We couldn’t find contact information for Younis, from the Material Research Laboratory in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. We tried contacting the editor of the journal, as well as Younis’ department, and finally reached Younis through an Institute of Physics press officer. Younis gave him this rationale for the retraction:

Due to illness, I was unaware that colleagues at my lab had already published data appearing in the paper that I submitted to Physica Scripta.  As soon as I realised the duplication, I requested that the paper be retracted.

That makes things a bit more clear; this was a case of duplicate publication. But it raises questions, such as whether members of a lab actually talk to one another, whether Younis’ name was actually on the unnamed paper where the data were originally published, and why the retraction was as vague as it was.

We’ll let you know if we find out anything else.

Hat tip: Ivan Christov

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