Chinese mathematician forced to retract paper after two co-authors say they had nothing to do with work

A mathematician will be performing subtraction on his CV now that he has had to retract a 2011 paper because his co-authors never agreed to submit it with him.

Kewen Zhao, of Qiongzhou University, Sanya, China, has lost a paper in Discrete Applied Mathematics, a journal for which Zhao claims to review. (Given the circumstances, perhaps he meant Indiscreet Applied Mathematics.)

According to the notice:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

The original submission was made without the approval of the two previously listed co-authors Ping Zhang and Yu-Jong Tzeng, who neither contributed to the research nor agreed with corresponding author Kewen Zhao to have a paper submitted in their names. This represents a clear violation of our policies on authorship which state “Authorship should be limited to those who have made a significant contribution to the conception, design, execution, or interpretation of the reported study… The corresponding author should ensure that all appropriate co-authors and no inappropriate co-authors are included on the paper, and that all co-authors have seen and approved the final version of the paper and have agreed to its submission for publication.”

The PDF of the paper is now marked “RETRACTED” on each page, and Zhao’s co-authors’ names are redacted.

We’ve asked Zhao how those names appeared on the paper in the first place, and will update with anything we hear back.

In the meantime, we note that he has published at least two other papers with Zhang, “Degree with Neighborhood Conditions and Highly Hamiltonian Graphs,” in Acta Applicandae Mathematicae, and “A sufficient condition for pancyclic graphs,” in Information Processing Letters. Neither is marked as corrected or retracted.

Hat tip: Clare Francis

10 thoughts on “Chinese mathematician forced to retract paper after two co-authors say they had nothing to do with work”

  1. Retractions like this puzzle me. Does this journal require co-authors to sign a document indicating their contribution? If so, we are dealing with a fraud situation, in that Zhau must have falsely signed. If the journal does not require this document, that is very confusing – why do they not require such a signing to occur?

    1. Paul, it is actually not that puzzling. Some journals have a designated “contact author” and all correspondance is between the journal and the contact author. It is up to the contact author to ensure that all other authors agree to the submission. Why don’t journals require all authors to sign? I’m not sure but I presume no editor wants to be on a carbon copy list of a dozen authors arguing about details of authorship. Having a single contact author is probably meant to streamline the process.

    2. Many modern journals allow electronic submissions. In such cases, the corresponding author is simply asked to confirm that all the co-authors agree with this submission & have been made aware of the journal’s policies on copyright, ethics & suchlike.

      Some journals might later ask for a printed “copyright transfer form” signed by all the co-authors after the paper is accepted but before it appears in print. Other journals might even skip the latter procedure in the name of efficiency.

    3. Generally speaking, Elsevier-published journals follow the model mentioned by previous commenters, i.e. the corresponding author is required to confirm on behalf of all authors at submission and if accepted, in the journal publishing agreement. A few journals (eg the Lancet) require all authors to sign and upload an authorship declaration at submission. Of course, the corresponding author role is somewhat of a historical practice based on the practical feasibility of collecting paper forms from authors in different parts of the world and posting them to the editorial office. Authorship issues like this one have led us to increasingly discuss with editors whether it’s time to require confirmation of authorship from all authors or at least notify all authors at submission and acceptance. It’s not something we can implement overnight for technical reasons but it’s definitely an option we want to offer to those journals/disciplines that find it appropriate.

  2. “In the meantime, we note that he has published at least two other papers with Zhang”.

    Zhang has a ‘List of Research Collaborators’ on her website. Zhao is not on it. The list does seem to be up-to-date. So presumably the other two co-called co-authored papers suffer from the same problem as the paper discussed.

  3. G’day Adam and Ivan…We look to be moving more speedily towards retraction with “The Australian Paradox” paper, authored by two big-name University of Sydney scientists (Dr Alan Barclay and Professor Jennie Brand-Miller).

    Some pretty disturbing new facts were put into the public debate today by the journalist who dealt with the authors during the initial rebuttal process: .

    My take on the facts of the matter is at . Check out the authors’ own charts (scroll down to Figures 1-4).

    The key thing to notice is that despite each of their four big-picture sugar indictors showing upward trends, the authors managed to conclude that sugar consumption declined substantially over the 30 years to 2010.

    So, sugar consumption in Australia has “an inverse relationship” with obesity, the Australian Paradox! Yeah, right.

    The authors were advised of the serious if really basic errors in their paper in March, and they published an equally shoddy rebuttal in “Nutrients” in April.

    In my opinion, it’s simply unreasonable for the University of Sydney scientists to allow their spectacularly false conclusion – “an inverse relationship” between sugar consumption and obesity! – flowing from negligent data analysis teamed-up with an incompetent peer-review process to sit uncorrected in a science journal, misinforming scientists and nutritionists across the world via the Internet many months after the real facts have become clear.

    Given the unreasonable delay in correcting the scientific record already, one of the questions reasonable people now are asking is when does an inadvertent series of major errors – and a spectacular-but-false conclusion – deliberately left uncorrected become a scientific hoax? Any thoughts, anyone?

    1. I recall numerous studies in the fifties claiming no adverse effects of smoking. The scientists that prostituted themselves then were typically paid by the tobacco industry. It would be nice to know who sponsored the research described in the sugar paper.

  4. I just want to note that the question about the “first author”, made to Zhao, makes no sense in Math community. Usually the authors appears in alphabetical order.

  5. We only require a corresponding author to sign the form but we have started copying all authors on decision letters. This means that the CA has to provide emails to us for all authors and they could provide false emails but it’s a start. We have found some issues this way without having to hold up the paper while we track down the authors for a copyright form.

  6. If a wrong conduct is simply an error or if it is a fraud depends not at last on the motiv. Has anyone got a clue which sinister motif could possibliy be behind takin some more persons on the authors list?

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