Ghost authorship? Two Meccanica retractions as an author’s work is plagiarized by disappearing scientists

About two years ago, Marc Duflot, a research engineer at Cenaero, heard a disturbing tale from a collaborator. The collaborator, it seemed, had been asked to review a paper submitted to a journal, and noticed that it was remarkably similar to a paper by Duflot. Duflot’s collaborator recommended that the journal reject the paper, and it did. Duflot tells Retraction Watch (we added a link to the paper in question):

Then, several months later, I discovered that the…paper had been submitted and accepted in Meccanica. If I remember correctly, I discovered it by searching the web with Google Scholar with terms related to my field of expertise.

So in January 2010, Duflot wrote to the editors of Meccanica to alert them to the plagiarism by the authors, M. Garzon and D. Sargoso of the University of Madrid. He concluded his email:

I am deeply disappointed by the fraudulent behaviour of M. Garzon and D. Sargoso. Strangely, I cannot find any mention of these two people on the web neither of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Madrid. Otherwise, I would have reported this to the head of their department.

An editorial assistant got back to him:

I am really sorry for the situation, and I apologize for all problems that the publication of this paper could have caused to you.

After acceptance of the paper and after online publication, at the end of November Professor Sargoso (second author of the paper) discovered that his student, Dr Garzon, had cheated on results and methods and thus he asked us to withdraw the paper. He did not specify that the manuscript was a plagiarism of other papers, but we started working on the withdrawal. Unfortunately, when a paper is published online, it is official and it cannot be simply deleted from the system: a withdrawal note of the authors is required for the withdrawal. We then asked this note to the authors, but we could not receive a proper note from Professor Sargoso or from Dr Garzon, even after several reminders.

However, after your communication, we have decided to accelerate the procedure and we have written the required note: we think that the gravity of the situation you presented us must not wait for the time of the authors. Yesterday we sent the note to Mr Pieren (in copy) who will provide to withdraw the paper.

I apolgoze again for the situation and I thank you again for having pointed out this matter.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. In early February 2010, Duflot wrote the editors again:

I hardly believe it but I found a second instance of plagiarism concerning one of my papers in Meccanica. The paper  Fracture analysis using an enriched meshless method  by G. Hildebrand (University of Paderborn) Meccanica 44(5):535-545 is a plagiarism without attribution of the following paper published by Wiley in 2004:

A meshless method with enriched weight functions for fatigue crack growth  Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang (2004) International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering 59:1945-1961

Both papers are attached for your convenience. Like with Garzon’s paper, the innovative numerical method, all the equations, some of the text and all numerical results are a copy of my paper.

Consequently, I request that you withdraw that paper as well.

For your information, I am going to report this incident to the University of Paderborn dean.

Duflot did report the incident to the University of Paderborn, and there’s where the story gets even more strange. It turns out that the university had no record of a Gunter Hildebrand. We checked with them today, and they still don’t. And the email address Hildebrand listed on his paper bounced.

All of that has led to two retractions — the dates of which, we should note, are difficult to figure out from publisher Springer’s site. First, the notice for the Garzon-Sargoso paper:

Because of the regrettable behavior of one of the authors (Dr Garzon) the paper “Equilibrium meshless method” has been withdrawn, since the paper is a fraud and its content and results are copied from other manuscripts. Apologies are due to Dr Duflot who emphasized the plagiarism of the Garzon paper with his paper: “Dual analysis by a meshless method” by Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang published in Communications in Numerical Methods in Engineering, Volume 18, Issue 9, Pages 621–631, 2002

We need to stress that the second author of the paper, Dr Sargoso, on November 28th, 2009 discovered that Dr Garzon cheated on results and methods and asked us to withdraw the paper. We could not withdraw the paper until now, since an author withdrawal note would be required to proceed. However, since we have not received a proper note from either of the “Equilibrium meshless method” paper authors, and considering the communications of Dr Duflot, Meccanica preferred to withdraw the paper in order to prevent an illicit spread of the paper itself.

Next, the notice for the Hildebrand paper, which has been cited just once, by another paper in Meccanica:

Because of the regrettable behavior of the author (Professor Gunter Hildebrand) the paper “Fracture analysis using an enriched meshless method” DOI  10.1007/s11012-008-9189-4 has been withdrawn, since the paper is a fraud and its content and results are copied from another manuscript. Apologies are due to Dr Duflot who emphasized the plagiarism of the Hildebrand paper with his paper: A meshless method with enriched weight functions for fatigue crack growth Marc Duflot and Hung Nguyen-Dang (2004) International Journal for Numerical Methods in Engineering 59:1945-1961. We have tried to obtain an explanation from Professor Hildebrand on this matter, but did not receive any reply from him. Since we have not received a proper note from Professor Hildebrand, and considering the communications of Dr Duflot, Meccanica preferred to withdraw the paper in order to prevent an illicit spread of the paper itself.

We’ve contacted the editor of Meccanica for comment about the circumstances of these retractions, and will update with anything we hear back.

Update, 8:30 p.m., 11/18/11: Meccanica’s editorial assistant, Nicola Sancisi, responded on behalf of the editor:

I do not know if the procedure we used to retract the paper is a general Springer policy. The procedure was indeed decided by the Editor and me and was then discussed with our collaborators at Springer; it was then applied in this and in another case of plagiarism we experienced.

In general, the procedure was devised according to common sense, due to the particular situation. The paper you are referring to was indeed published in Meccanica, after a review process that was based on the comments of two reviewers: the paper went throught a major revision and then was accepted in revised form. Unfortunately, both reviewers did not notice that the paper was a plagiarism of a previous paper from different Authors; we also did not notice this. After publication, the co-Author of the paper (Professor Sargoso) wrote us to withdraw the paper, since he discovered that his student (i.e. the first Author) “cheated on results and methods”.

After the message of Professor Sargoso, we tried to clarify the situation with both Authors, since it was not clear what exactly the first Author did. Moreover, sometime it happens that due to personal affairs one author accuses the other, in order to cast him in a bad light and to damage him on the professional side. Before retraction we needed to be sure what happened.

However, after a few days a different Author wrote us to point out that the paper was a plagiarism of a paper he published some years before. We checked the two papers and they looked actually quite similar: not only the results were the same, but some paragraphs were very similar. Again, we tried to clarify the situation with both Authors: since plagiarism is a serious point, we needed to be sure that the two papers were not simply similar, but that they were actually the same paper. Moreover, we believe that before retracting for plagiarism is necessary to know the opinion of all parts, the accused Authors included: they could clarify some aspects that are not evident at a first analysis.

We fixed a deadline for the Authors to reply to our messages. Unfortunately both Authors did not reply to our messages and to our requests of explantions. Thus, we retracted the paper before receipt of a note from the Authors.

Hat tip: “Clare Francis”

36 thoughts on “Ghost authorship? Two Meccanica retractions as an author’s work is plagiarized by disappearing scientists”

    1. Retraction Watch caused a retraction, methinks.

      The video above, with smoke and mirrors, after being up since 2009, was withdrawn, soon after it went up on Retraction Watch.

      I can only speculate that Breslovers watch Retraction Watch, which is part of the joy and fun of life.

      Same singer, same song, no smoke this time. No harm done.

      The song is “old school”, 16th century CE.

  1. I’ve been emailing Meccanica (and Springer) about plagiarism in this journal (concerning different articles from those discussed above) for over a year. Usually, no one connected to this journal replies to email. Still, no investigation has taken place, though I sent them PDFs showing something like 75% textual overlap. I’m happy to see that someone else was able to get somewhere with this journal.

    1. Dear Sir,

      I thank you for your post.

      I discovered this blog thanks to the recent messages of Professor Oransky, regarding the two papers of Dr Duflot.

      I apologize for the problem, but I sincerely do not know what situation you are referring to, in particular because no name is associated to your post. We reply to all messages we receive; it could happen that sometime we reply with some delay, depending on the number of messages we have received in that particular period, but we always send a reply. Thus, I am wondering if we have received these messages or if you sent your messages to the correct email addresses.

      As for the plagiarism, as far as I can remember, in the last 8 years we received 4 messages concerning possible plagiarisms: two of them were the two Dr Duflot papers; the other two papers were pointed out this year by Professor Ivan Christov, who noticed several resemblances between two papers published in Meccanica and two previously published papers.

      We have replied to Professor Christov and we actually started an investigation that lasted several months. We indeed carefully analysed the two papers noticed but Professor Christov: they looked quite similar but they were not the same papers. Thus, before retracting the two papers, a new review process with new reviewers was required for both papers to understand if they were actually plagiarisms. We received the final results of this investigation just 10 days ago. We are performing the last analyses, but I think that the final decision will be communicated soon to Professor Christov.

      These are the results of our investigation. The two papers are NOT actually plagiarisms, even if they look quite similar. Since the focus of these papers is very similar to other papers written by these Authors or their colleagues, the Authors copied several paragraphs from their papers, but modified the theoretical parts. This is a behaviour that we do not support at Meccanica: if we or the previous Reviewers had noticed this (both papers indeed went through a review process based on the comments of two Referees before publication), we would have asked the Authors to rewrite the papers. Moreover, if we consider the other published papers, it is true that the novelty of the manuscript is below the standard of Meccanica for a full paper: probably we would have asked to rewrite the paper as a brief note.

      However, these are not reasons to retract the two papers: it is true that their quality is not above the Meccanica standards, but they can be actually considered original for their theoretical contents, and they could be of interest for some readers.

      As reported above, however, textual overlaps are not supported at Meccanica and at Springer. In order to prevent further instances, and in order to face this more and more usual practice, Springer recently provided us and the other Springer journals with an online tool that makes it possible to compare a paper with a very large database of published material. All text overlaps with different sources are pointed out and the overall similarity with published documents can be obtained. We have recently started using this tool, with good results.

      I hope to have clarified the situation.


      Nicola Sancisi
      Meccanica editorial assistant

      1. “The two papers are NOT actually plagiarisms, even if they look quite similar.”

        “Authors copied several paragraphs from their papers, but modified the theoretical parts.”

        “I hope to have clarified the situation.”

        Uhhhh…what? Let me get this straight: they copied their papers and made a slight change to try and evade detection. Therefore, there is nothing wrong here.

  2. That this article is entirely remote to biological issues raises some questions in my mind: after reading this blog for a while, it appears that most of the retractions are in biology and medicine, and very few are in physics, chemistry, engineering,… 1) Is this perception true, and 2) if so, why is this?

    I’m not suggesting that the latter group is more ethical, although that certainly could be the case. It could also be that the editors of this blog are more attuned to issues in the former given their “day jobs”.

    Any thoughts?

    1. There are probably several reasons why retractions appear to be more prevalent in biological sciences. I would suggest:

      1) Biology is more generally active than physics or chemistry. I don’t have the stats, but I suspect that the biological field produces many more publications than others.

      2) Biology is often qualitative. While it might be impossible to fudge an equation or a numerical constant (they either give the right answer or do not) it is possible to fake westerns and micrographs, as we see here regularly.

      3) Biologists work and publish frantically. Positions and advancement in biology require masses of high impact publications. Students desperate to graduate and professors desperate for tenure are under intense pressure to get “good” results. Few researchers will get the high-value results and so there is a vast substratus of surplus scientists with a strong motive to falsify or fabricate.


      1. Dan, I don’t think point one is that significant. Looking at the Thomsom Reuters “Web of Knowledge” field rankings by discipline (last 5 years I think), the numbers for the top ones are:

        Clinical Medicine – 2,131,297
        Chemistry – 1,191,490
        Physics – 878,453
        Engineering – 830,925
        Biology and Biochemistry – 561,916
        Plant & Animal Science – 559,477
        Social Sciences, General – 472,665
        Materials Science – 466,708
        Neurosciences & Behavior – 310,719
        Molecular Biology and Genetics – 283,148
        Environment/Ecology – 274,160
        Computer Science – 266,684
        Mathematics – 266,638

        Followed by a longer tail of smaller disciplines. Now it’s possible that you could aggregate up a few of these disciplines and call them “biology”, but likewise materials science is essentially chemistry. Based purely on the numbers alone one would expect a lot more clinical medicine, chemistry, and physics retractions than we are seeing, compared to biology. I think it has more to do with your point 2 and the qualitative nature of biology, which in turns makes it easier to cheat.

        The frantic nature of publish or perish is the same in all areas of science really –chemistry is no different than biology.

      1. Perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but notice that the subject matter here is crack propagation in stressed materials. That’s a subject which frequently comes up in high-stakes product liability litigation. It can be convenient for a party to have certain opinions stated in a particular way in print, or to establish a particular person as an expert in exactly the right subject. Since the Potemkin resume and expert report only have to hold up until the matter settles, all that might be needed would be to cobble up bits and pieces of other publications with a few critically drafted sentences.

        No reason in particular to think that happened here, but the coincidence of ghost authors, plagiarism and fracture propagation did raise my eyebrows a bit.

      2. Thanks for the question, which we get a fair amount. Yes, Adam and I are better-sourced in the life sciences, so we’re more likely to hear about retractions there. We don’t claim that the selection on RW is necessarily representative. The fact that there are two physics retractions in a row is really coincidental; they were what we got to yesterday and today. Give our category dropdown in the right-hand column a look; posts are categorized by subject.

  3. Dear anonymous 3:22pm.

    This is because you are not identifying yourself as a plagiarized author. Less responsible periodicals, usually “small” ones, tend to ignore anonymous accusations as they do not feel forced to take any action. On the other hand, a plagiarized author can very well sue the publisher. This very much affects self-correcting mechanisms in Science.
    The best thing you do is to contact the plagiarized authors and also spread the evidence everywhere (e.g. Abnormal Science Blog). This ought to take lazy editors out of inertia as the thing starts reeking in the wind direction.

    1. “On the other hand, a plagiarized author can very well sue the publisher”
      And what would be the legal basis for such a suit? It is very likely that the author whose work was plagiarized had transferred all copyright to his publisher.

    2. Dear Paulo,

      I thank you for your post.

      Please check my reply to anonymous 3:22 pm.


      Nicola Sancisi
      Meccanica editorial assistant

    3. I think you hit the nail on the head. Nicola’s Nov 21 post essentially says the same thing — they won’t pursue the cases of self-plagiarism and duplication because there is no “plagiarized author” that could go ahead and sue them.

      1. Dear Sir,

        I think that you probably misunderstood my post.

        We do not accept duplications, since this practice is never supported at Meccanica: a paper that proves to be a self-plagiarism would be retracted.

        Please refer to my previous post of November 21, for more details.


        Nicola Sancisi
        Meccanica editorial assistant

      2. I did not. You said: “…the focus of these papers is very similar to other papers written by these Authors or their colleagues, the Authors copied several paragraphs from their papers…”

        Perhaps you misunderstand the meaning of “self-plagiarism” and “duplication”: “Self-plagiarism (also known as “recycling fraud”[39]) is the reuse of significant, identical, or nearly identical portions of one’s own work without acknowledging that one is doing so or without citing the original work.”

        The question is not what they changed, but what they did NOT change. Your post suggests there is a preponderance of evidence for self-plagiarism/duplication since it’s all recycled from themselves and their colleagues, but conclude the opposite. Paulo S. gives a compelling explanation of why you might do so.

        How about linking the papers so we can judge for ourselves? What’s is the point of your post anyways?

      3. Dear Sir,

        I try here to clarify what I meant in my previous posts.

        We can identify two different way to copy the contents of a paper; here I will refer to type 1 and type 2.

        As for type 1, the Authors write a paper on a subject that is similar to other papers published by themselves. For instance, these Authors could work on the modelling of a particular phenomenon and they present a paper on a new model they devised for that particular phenomenon. For several reasons, they copy some paragraphs from their own papers or from those of their colleagues, that agree to do so. The reasons could be different: they have some difficulties with english; they do not know how to rephrase the same concepts; they are lazy and do not want to spend time on writing a completely new paper, etc. Anyway, they copy some paragraphs, but propose a new model that both has new theoretical aspects and makes it possible to obtain new results.

        As for type 2, the Authors write a paper exactly on the same subject the same Authors or other researchers did before. Thus, they duplicate or copy the idea, the methods, the results, some paragraphs, etc. For instance, they use the same model as they previously did, and they use it to obtain the same results as in published papers. The paper has no new theoretical aspects or results with respect to the published literature.

        In my previous post, I wrote that at Meccanica we do not accept either type 1 nor type 2 papers. If we discover that a manuscript is a type 2 paper, we reject the paper. But if we discover that a manuscript is a type 1 paper, we decide a) to reject the paper, or b) to reject the paper in the present form, by asking to rewrite the manuscript and to remove all copied paragraphs, or c) to reject the paper in the present form, by asking to rewrite the manuscript as a brief note and to remove all copied paragraphs. The decision among a, b or c depends on the comments of the Referees, on the innovative aspects of the paper, etc.

        Now, what happens if both we and the Referees do not notice that the paper is of a type 1 or type 2 and the paper is published? As I wrote in my previous posts, in the last 8 years 4 papers were found in these conditions by Meccanica readers. The Dr Duflot papers were found to be of type 2. As for the others, after the analyses described in my previous post (analyses that include new review processes) they were found to be of type 1. We believe that type 2 papers must be retracted for sure, and this is what we did, as explained in Professor Oransky post. But type 1 papers could not be retracted: these manuscripts are actually original for their theoretical contents and they could be interesting for some readers; moreover, the Authors used their own text.

        I repeat, we do not accept duplications, since this practice is never supported at Meccanica. I would like to stress that the policy of Meccanica on papers of type 1 (when this type is recognized at the review process) is what I decribed in the previous paragraphs. However, if for some reasons a paper is not recognized as a type 1 paper before publication, we believe that this paper in general should not be retracted. Moreover, I also repeat (please refer again to my previous post) that in order to prevent or, however, reduce textual overlap instances, we are now using an online tool that automatically finds all similarities between a paper and published material. This tool, together with Reviewer comments, helps us to identify those papers whose text is not completely original, so that we can still improve our decisions.

        I hope that everything is clear now.


        Nicola Sancisi
        Meccanica editorial assistant

    1. I believe that there are not that many physics retractions because most people are not very good at maths (U.S. English math).

      Here is a recent one though:

      Biophysical Journal
      Volume 88, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 422-435


      doi:10.1529/biophysj.104.048629 | How to Cite or Link Using DOI

      Cited By in Scopus (47)

      Permissions & Reprints

      RETRACTED: Fluorescence Spectroscopy of Conformational Changes of Single LH2 Complexes

      Danielis Rutkauskas*, , , Vladimir Novoderezhkin†, Richard J. Cogdell‡, Rienk van Grondelle*
      *Department of Biophysics and Physics of Complex Systems, Division of Physics and Astronomy, Faculty of Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
      †A. N. Belozersky Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology, Moscow State University, Moscow 119899, Russia
      ‡Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, United Kingdom

      Available online 10 December 2008.
      Referred to by:

      Biophysical Journal, Volume 101, Issue 6, 21 September 2011, Page 1555,
      D. Rutkauskas, V. Novoderezhkin, R.J. Cogdell, R. van Grondelle

      This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

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

      The editors have noted that there is a substantial overlap of figures and text between this Biophysical Journal article and D. Rutkauskas, V. Novoderezkhin, R.J. Cogdell and R. van Grondelle. Fluorescence spectral fluctuations of single LH2 complexes from Rhodopseudomonas acidophila strain 10050. Biochemistry, 43 (2004) 4431–4438, doi:10.1021/bi0497648. The submission of this paper was inconsistent with the Biophysical Journal policy which states: “Manuscripts submitted to Biophysical Journal (BJ) must be original; papers that have already been published or are concurrently submitted elsewhere for publication are not acceptable for submission. This includes manuscripts previously submitted to BJ, as well as material that has been submitted to other journals while BJ is considering the manuscript. If some part of the work has appeared or will appear elsewhere, the authors must give the specific details of such appearances in the cover letter accompanying the BJ submission. If previously published illustrative material, such as figures or tables, must be included, the authors are responsible for obtaining the appropriate permissions from the publisher(s) before the material may be published in BJ”. We are therefore retracting the publication of the Biophysical Journal article.

      Address reprint requests to Danielis Rutkauskas.

      Copyright © 2005 The Biophysical Society. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

      1. I love the “address reprint requests to Danielis Rutkauskas” addition!

        How does that work? “Dear Dr. Rutkauskas, could you please send me a copy of the retraction notice of your paper in Biophysical Journal? Thank you!”

        Somehow, I don’t think he’ll be too eager to send me such a reprint….

  4. Aren’t the awkward English and misspellings in the email to Duflot from Springer’s “editorial assistant” a bit suspicious?

    Re Garzon and Sargoso, there is no such institution as the “University of Madrid” given as their affiliation in the retracted Meccanica article, and searching the net for the two names and Madrid (on the assumption that search engines would locate something resembling a university affiliation in that city in Spain) only returns hits related to the Retraction Watch entry.

    So who is the “Mr Pieren” that Springer supposedly copied their email to?

    Very strange. Am I missing something?

  5. Not to indulge conspiracy theories, but could it be possible that a journal is padding itself with fake papers? Authors that don’t exist from institutions that don’t exist don’t have CVs to pad, do they?

  6. Ghost authorship, wow. Never came to my mind something like that is possible.

    A new step in spam, sophisticated science spam. Make up a name, make up an institution and try to get your fabricated data into a journal as highly ranked as possible……..

    1. Imagine having a dog as co-author!

      Polly Matzinger apparently did that once. Quite the character, Polly is. I saw her speak at a small conference, and thoroughly enjoyed her “alternative” way of presenting.

      1. True, but doesnt make too much of a difference. In the end, there is no scientist and no institution you can hold responsible. If a truely anonymous email account has been used, there is no way to find out who did it.

        I could imagine some people with too much time could find it amusing to install such a “spam paper” into the scientific literature. Simple plagiarism would be the easy way. Look above what WHY has discovered ….

        More problematic would be fabricated spam. Wonder how long until editors will only accept institutional email addresses……

  7. Dear Jospeh and “genetics” and others,

    I can remember before 2000 like it was yesterday. 2000 was not the year dot.

    This kind of thing did happen.

    It is referred to as the “Sokol affair”.,or the “Sokol hoax”.

    These bits always made me laugh, and still do:

    “The submission was an experiment to test the publication’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to learn if such a journal would “publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if it (a) sounded good and (b) flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”


    “On its date of publication (May 1996), Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of Left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense . . . structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics”.


    He did not deceive the reading public.

    It looks like he is in London now. Good on him!

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