Authors dispute ethical lapse in case of double physics publication that wasn’t

Plasma Processes and Polymers has retracted a paper it published in March 2012 for what it describes as a “possible breach of ethics.”

That certainly sounds bad — if inconclusive — but the authors maintain the whole thing was a simple misunderstanding.

The article, “Plasma Acid: Water Treated by Dielectric Barrier Discharge,” came from the lab of Gary Friedman, a physicist at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The first, and corresponding, author was Natalie Shainsky, an award-winning graduate student at the school.

As the notice states:

This paper has been rejected on March 28, 2012, because of a possible breach of ethics. The author has been informed.

We’re not sure about the use of the word “rejected” here, because the paper was accepted on March 2 and the journal elsewhere describes the action as a retraction.

We spoke with Friedman, who gave us a somewhat different story. According to the researcher, Shainsky had submitted a version — not identical but pretty close to it — of the paper to another journal while the article in PPP was under consideration. When the second journal agreed to accept the article, he said, the lab reviewed the manuscript and realized that it was too close for comfort.

When it was realized by us that that actually occurred, we retracted the second paper and what then happened was that we notified the PPP journal. There was a misunderstanding, in that some email was sent to the student, and the student thought that this was already handled and didn’t reply in time.

PPP thought we were still pursuing publication of the same paper in a different journal, which was no longer true.

Friedman said PPP did not copy all of the authors in its email to Shainsky, including himself, which might have avoided the problem.

 I was not aware of the situation … until PPP put it on its website.

Friedman told us that his group has been urging the journal to revisit the retraction.

We have now written several emails and the PPP is now looking into it and I hope that they will correct the situation.

Helping his case, he said, is that the second paper never was published — indeed, it never even received a review — so there was no duplication.

In my opinion, it’s a misunderstanding not an ethical violation. No ethical violation occurred. It was a mistake that was noted in time.

0 thoughts on “Authors dispute ethical lapse in case of double physics publication that wasn’t”

  1. I think you should keep an eye on this group. It seems they (and collaborators) have a tendency toward duplicate publication.

    For example,

    Sensenig, et al, 2011, Annals of Biomedical Engineering, 39:674-687 and

    Fridman, et al, 2007, Plasma Chem Plasma Process, 27:163-176

    contain at least 6 figures with duplicate data. The 2011 paper does not cite the 2007 paper…

    There may be more examples.

    1. This case is yet another illustration about the perverse incentives of current system for awarding academics, which is based on the number of publications. The more publications (regardless of their novelty and/or usefulness), the more public grants one gets. So, if one wants to get more grants without having many novelties, one tries to create the impression for multiple novelties by carefully paraphrasing whatever one has available. Then, only and only if being caught, they say “Sorry, didn’t know, didn’t mean”, etc. However, this happens only if the authors have some conscience left, while others, for example, Benach and Muntaner, do not even say “Sorry”, but continue to produce variations based on the same matter — see my comments here

      The question is:
      What to do in cases when the editor turns a blind eye for such misconduct?
      Should the publisher be held accountable, if the editor refuses to Do-the Right-Thing?
      Should COPE be held accountable, if the publisher, being COPE member, refuses to Do-the Right-Thing?
      Should the institution of the authors be held accountable, if the authors are in contravention of institutions’ own frameworks/rules, but the institution decides to turn a blind eye for their misconduct?

      It is clear to everyone that having nice Frameworks/rules and declaring that “we take misconduct seriously” is useless, if then the right thing is not done when misconduct is revealed. Therefore, Transparency Index has the potential to address all these issues by showing whether the editors/publishers/institutions Do-the Right-Thing when evidence for misconduct is presented to them.

      Should TI is implemented in Benach and Muntaner case (see above), What score will get Gaceta Sanitaria, Elsevier, COPE, University of Toronto, and Universitat Pompeu Fabra?

  2. “So, if one wants to get more grants without having many novelties, one tries to create the impression for multiple novelties by carefully paraphrasing whatever one has available.”

    I know that some people are very and have many people in their lab/network, but when you see several hundred publications you do start to wonder how is it possible to produce so many novel pieces of scientific work.

    For example 912 publications which seem to be by the same author.

    As an example. To make it a manageable task on a circumscibed area, when looking at only reviews of microRNAs in cancer there are 60 publications in the last few years, many which mention the same points, or the same points in another organ. It is hard to see blue water between them. People will say that they are only reviews, but surely that is a form of advertising for the author and also for the machines which produce the data about what goes up and what goes down (gene expression).

  3. “In my opinion, it’s a misunderstanding not an ethical violation.”
    This is indeed an ethical violation because your manuscript cannot be under review by more than one journal at the same time. But because the authors submitted their manuscript to PPP first, they did not violate ethical policies of this particular journal. Rather, they violated ethical policies of the second journal. But I do not see why the first journal would see it fit to punish them for this, unless… My gut tells me that there is more to the story because I do not buy into the idea that you submit your manuscript to two different journals and once it gets accepted by one of them, you remove your submission from the other journal, AND THEN inform the first journal that you submitted (then withdrew) the manuscript elsewhere while it was under review by the first journal. It would only make sense, if the first journal got wind of the duplicated submission by other means without the authors telling them about it. For example, the duplicate submission might have been sent to the same reviewer twice and then all hell broke loose.

  4. The following two sentences confuse me:
    Sentence 1:
    “When the second journal agreed to accept the article”
    Sentence 2:
    ” the second paper never was published — indeed, it never even received a review”

    So the second journal accepted the second paper without even having received a review on it? Or am I getting my papers and journals mixed up? Or is somebody else getting their papers and journals mixed up? Or does “accept” here mean “decide to put through peer review” and does the later “retraction” by the authors mean “telling the journal not to bother with sending it out for peer review”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.