Astrophysics retraction trail includes paper that plagiarized another already retracted for…plagiarism

Sometimes, the full story of scientific misdeeds isn’t clear until several retraction notices appear. Take the case of a group of Vietnamese astrophysicists led by Thong Duc Le.

If you were to read a Physics Letters B retraction notice about one of the group’s papers, “Search for cosmological time variation of the fine-structure constant using low-redshifts of quasar,” you wouldn’t have any idea why the paper was retracted, nor that the move was related to any other retractions:

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the Editor. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause. The full Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal can be found at

You’d learn a bit more from a Europhysics Letters retraction notice for “Was the fine-structure constant variable over cosmological time?,” notably that the withdrawal was for plagiarism (and hold onto that thought):

This paper has been formally withdrawn on ethical grounds because the article contains extensive and repeated instances of plagiarism.

EPL treats all identified evidence of plagiarism in the published articles most seriously. Such unethical behaviour will not be tolerated under any circumstance.

It is unfortunate that this misconduct was not detected before going to press. My thanks to Editor colleagues from other journals for bringing this fact to my attention.

A notice in Astrophysics and Space Science for “Search for time variation of the fine-structure constant using [OIII] emission lines,” apparently the most recent, gives a bit more detail:

This article has been published OnlineFirst, but is withdrawn due to following investigation of complaints received against it. In consultation with the author, both the author and the Editor in Chief Michael Dopita have agreed that substantial portions of the text came from other papers, most notably from Paolo Molaro et al. 2005, Proceedings IAU Symposium No. 232, without attribution, so this clearly constitutes plagiarism. It is clear that the author’s lack of experience in publishing scientific papers led him to make this error. However, whatever the cause, plagiarism in any form cannot be countenanced. The Editor in Chief also notes that the other authors of the paper were unaware of the issue of plagiarism, and that no blame attaches to them.

It’s the notice in Progress of Theoretical Physics that is the most revealing. The group, it turns out, plagiarized their own study that had already been retracted for plagiarism. Oh, and they faked some credentials:

The Editorial Committee of this journal wishes to acknowledge with regret that “New Method of Searching for Cosmological Time Variation of the Fine-Structure Constant” by Thong Duc Le, which was published in Vol. 126 (2011), p. 177 of this journal, has been found to be essentially a copy of the Europhysics Letters article, EPL 87 (2009), 69002 by L. D. Thong, N. M. Giao, N. T. Hung and T. V. Hung. To be worse, the latter was a paper retracted by EPL publisher in June 2010 by the reason that it contained extensive and repeated instances of plagiarism. We share this view with them, and moreover, this article was written under the feigned name of affiliation. PTP treats all unethical behavior such as plagiarism and duplicate submission seriously.

Because the above-mentioned article is not an original contribution, the article (including its abstract and references) has been removed from this site. (September 14, 2011).

We suspect we haven’t heard the end of this case. The retracted Europhysics Letters paper, for example, was cited by Thong’s group in this one in Astrophysics.

13 thoughts on “Astrophysics retraction trail includes paper that plagiarized another already retracted for…plagiarism”

  1. Industry and persistence, indispensible tools of the scientist and the plagiarist.

    How is it that the co-authors were unaware of the extensive plagiarism? Had they not read the manuscript that included them as authors? Were they unaware of the literature in their field? Why is it that only one author, often a graduate student or post-doc, takes the fall? Are all co-authors so remote from the actual work that they have no idea what strategies were pursued in developing the data and writing the manuscript? Do people really deserve to be named as authors if they had no involvement in the development of data and the only time they saw the manuscript was when they were asked to edit it right before it was submitted?

    1. All in this group are amateur astrophysicists. They did nothing except copied something from some papers. I wonder that how referees accept this group’s submissions ? Are they professional in their fields ? Some in this group have been ruled out from their institution.

      1. As long as unresponsive institutions are the rule, we will soon have a whole horde of fake scientists gathering funds.

    1. In Vietnam, Thong Duc Le has been ruled out from his institution [Ins. of Physics, HCM city] since 2010 [after the first retraction paper’s appearing]. But he was not aware of his mistake after the first retraction paper. He has used his ex-institution address in new submit(s)/paper(s). I guess that he cannot publish any further paper without an [academic] affiliation address.

    2. I interpret this to mean that the author or authors either 1) claimed affiliation with an institution that does not exist or 2) falsely claimed to be affiliated with an institution that does exist.

      1. thanks – that is much clearer. It seems that in this case, the institution took appropriate steps to protect their reputation by removing TDL’s affiliation with them. Rafa, would you still consider this an unresponsive institution?? While I don’t think they removed TDL for the sake of science, they surely made some action…

  2. Thanks to Retraction Watch, this scandal has been well known in Vietnam. For example, you all can read a news in a popular newspapers of Vietnam: “Vietnamese researcher plagiarizes 7 papers”
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    Plagiarism is not allowed in Vietnam and in the world. But as you known, for non-speaking English countries it is not easy to examine or show what scientific paper is plagiarism one. Retracting might be harder than publishing !

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