Journal retracts nanoparticle paper, citing widespread misuse of sources

The  International Journal of Nanomedicine is retracting a paper it published in June that appears to contain an impressive amount of misappropriated text and figures.

The article, “Particokinetics: computational analysis of the superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles deposition process,” came from a group at the Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, in São Paulo, Brazil, led by Walter Cárdenas. According to the notice:

Cárdenas WH, Mamani JB, Sibov TT, Caous CA, Amaro E Jr, Gamarra LF. Particokinetics: computational analysis of the superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles deposition process. Int J Nanomedicine. 2012;7:2699–2712.

It was brought to our attention that the Cárdenas et al paper did not cite a key source paper for the mathematics and approach to modeling the particokinetics of nanoparticles: Hinderliter PM, Minard KR, Orr O, et al. ISDD: A computational model of particle sedimentation, diffusion and target cell dosimetry for in vitro toxicity studies. Part Fibre Toxicol. 2010;7:36.

In addition to unacceptable similarities in equations, computer implementation, and use of parameters from the above reference, three of the figures appearing in the paper are nearly identical to those published in the abovementioned Hinderliter et al, while others are very similar to those published in Teeguarden JG, Hinderliter PM, Orr G, Thrall BD, Pounds JG. Particokinetics in vitro: dosimetry considerations for in vitro nanoparticle toxicity assessments. Toxicol Sci. 2007;95(2) 300–312.

A number of other relevant citations were not included:

Bird RB, Stewart WE, Lightfoot EN. Transport Phenomena. 2nd edition. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc; 2002:97.

Socolofsky SA, Jirka GH. Environmental Fluid Mechanics Part I: Mass Transfer and Diffusion Engineering – Lectures. 2nd edition. Karlsruhe-Germany; 2002:23.

Probstein RF. Physicochemical Hydrodynamics – An Introduction. 2nd Edition. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc; 2003:45.

Bejan A. Convection Heat Transfer. 3rd edition. New York: John Wiley and Sons Inc; 2004:515.

We have no choice but to retract the publication by Cárdenas et al.

The Brazilian group did cite the 2007 Teeguarden paper — it’s reference 20 in their list. Teeguarden is Justin Teeguarden, of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash. He said he learned about the offending paper from a colleague outside his institution who remarked on how similar the work was to Teeguarden’s own output. The same colleague said later that it was clearly plagiarism.

Virtually all the figures were recognizable as being either published in one of our papers they cited – they changed the scales on the axes, for example – or, when I went through it more closely, other figures were very similar to a second paper of ours that they hadn’t cited. Whole sentences were almost identical, the approach was identical at all levels. There’s no question that they had read our papers and borrowed so heavily from intellectual content that their work was not original.

Teeguarden said he brought the matter to the journal, then followed up with a more detailed memo outlining the similarities between the Brazilian study and his work.

What followed was a frustrating back-and-forth that left Teeguarden feeling like the burden was on him to keep the process moving toward a satisfactory resolution. At first, he said, the journal offered to run an erratum written by the researchers. (The journal editor hasn’t responded to our requests for comment.) But when Teeguarden saw the wording of that statement, he said

It was written by people trying to be evasive, not by people trying to correct an error. It was unacceptable, dishonest, and unprofessional.

He demanded a retraction, and this time the journal agreed.

At that point they had more fully engaged.

Teeguarden seemed surprised that such a straightforward case of plagiarism could drag on as it did, although in the end, he said, the journal did the right thing.

[The researchers] essentially stole something that was novel at the time and presented it as their own work. You either stand up for publishing standards or you don’t.

16 thoughts on “Journal retracts nanoparticle paper, citing widespread misuse of sources”

  1. “What followed was a frustrating back-and-forth that left Teeguarden feeling like the burden was on him to keep the process moving toward a satisfactory resolution.”

    That’s the real scandal if you ask me. Individual scientists commit misconduct – but institutions including publishers often make matters much worse by their attitude. Publishers ought to take allegations of misconduct in their journals as a direct concern about their own credibility and investigate them urgently.

  2. “A number of other relevant citations were not included: …” is followed by a list of standard books, it is unclear to me how not citing a standard textbook is misconduct. Did the authors copy something verbatim from these books and not cite it as a quote?

  3. Please note that plagiarism-detecting software is effective ONLY for verbatim text.
    Today only some stupid 1st year students copy verbatim text.
    Paraphrasing the text can bypass any existing s/w, and this is precisely what the fraudsters do.
    For example, multiple re-use of identical figures can not be detected due to different(paraphrased) titles of these. See my comments here

    1. “Today only some stupid 1st year students copy verbatim text.” — …or some third-world scientist like a Brazilian scientist. I tell you, many of my colleagues are not aware copying verbatim is actually so wrong, neither of the existence of plagiarism-detecting softwares and websites. Most of my colleagues are even unable to properly read this blog, as they do not really know English.

      Education in Brazil is so poor, this is how it affects our scientific quality.

      1. Oh, in fact I do agree in that some misconduct come from naive cheaters, especially when such individuals work far from the great centres of knowledge/education. For instance, the plagiarism cases from Brazil figuring in this blog reported a guy copying 90% in verbatim the most influential colleagues in his field.
        I however, do not think these account for most cases of misconduct in Brazil — poorly educated researchers publish very little and tend to be rapidly exposed. I think our greatest sharks have taken their basic precautions, and these are harder to expose and/or punish.

  4. “appears to contain an impressive amount of misappropriated text and figures.” Indeed, very impressive.

    I was at first intending to write a comment praising the editors for their statement that “We have no choice but to retract the publication by Cárdenas et al.” But as I continued to read, it became apparent that they were not exhibiting admirable auto-motivation to set the record straight but were in fact reluctant to do this and were impelled by persistence on the part of one of the wronged parties. Tsk, tsk. Just another set of editors who don’t pay attention to what they are using to fill the space between the covers of their journal.

  5. Dove Press is on Beall’s List of Predatory, Open-Access Publishers, so I am not that surprised that they are not handling themselves well here.

    1. São Paulo produces half of the Brazilian science, so it is obvious that it will concentrate most of Brazilian plagiarism.

      Verbatim copies are not only a Brazilian problem. This year, for instance, I peer-reviewed a paper (from Singapore, I think) whose introduction was almost an identical copy of the work of another researcher. Two years ago a guy from my lab found out that a Chinese professor just copyed one of his papers, not even bothering to change the papers title.

      1. “so it is obvious that it will concentrate most of Brazilian plagiarism.” — I would have to disagree, however just based on my personal experience. I work in Sao Paulo, and see awfully many colleagues (%) making extensive use of plagiarism and salami submissions to spur their CVs. Anyway, it does not come obvious that one half of Brazilian production must represent the whole, *especially* if it comes from the same region/universities.
        Here in Sao Paulo we have researchers with incredibly long lists of publications (>20-30 papers a year), and these in fact account for a great % of total scientific production of Brazil. From my observations, they seem to be exactly the same who are most permissive towards sci misconduct, otherwise they would never be able to get >20 papers a year. However most questionable papers were not retracted either because the responsible periodicals are not strict/serious (number of papers is the primary criterion to evaluate a scientist in Brazil) or because they are quite recent, or published in “cold” areas of research. Many papers are the key to get to the top in Brazilian science politics: the level “CNPq 1A”.
        Thus I really do believe that comparatively few individuals in Brazil are connected with most Brazilian cases of misconduct, and also that most of them in % work in Sao Paulo. This draws to me a picture of relatively few researchers staining the international perception of Brazilian Science, but they never get punished as they are the most influential scientists around here — exactly because their # of papers is a great fraction of our productivity.
        “Follow the money”, I must quote.

  6. @alan: if you would have reviewed a paper (wherever it is from), you should have record of it. Please disclose it. Did you alert the editor on this? What about the other case, did your staff inform the concerned journal about this? If you don’t do this, the practice will continue.

    1. Of course! I rejected the paper and warned the editors for the plagiarism. In the other situation the paper was retracted at the request of my colleague.

      Unfortunatly I don’t have the title of the papers and the names of the authors here with me (I’m on a travel and the papers are in my lab).

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