University of Waterloo suspends researcher who published plagiarized paper — in his own journal

Dongqing Li
Dongqing Li

Dongqing Li, a nanotechnology expert at the University of Waterloo in Canada, has been suspended without pay for four months resulting from an investigation into a paper he published that contained rampant plagiarism.

Oh, and the offending article appeared in a journal Li founded — and of which he was the top editor.

The Globe and Mail has a CTV video report about the university’s actions, which you can watch here. As we reported back in August, Li and a graduate student, Yasaman Daghighi, were forced to retract their 2010 article in Microfluidics and Nanofluidics, “Induced-charge electrokinetic phenomena” because:

Unaltered text was taken from a pre-published version of Bazant MZ, Squires TM (2010) Induced-charge electrokinetic phenomena. Curr Opin Colloid Interface Sci 15(2010) 203–213. Moreover, a few reproduced figures from other published articles lack appropriate references. The authors apologize for their negligence.

Li is still listed as a member of the editorial board of Microfluidics and Nanofluidics.

According to Margaret Munro, in the National Post:

Li, who is devising hand-held diagnostic devises for use in biomedical and environmental testing, has received more than $2 million in federal science grants and has been promised another $700,000.

We still aren’t sure how the two researchers got a pre-publication copy of the Bazant article, although Munro reported in September that

“The Editorial Board [of M and N] was told, that Yasaman Daghighi saw a preprint of Prof. Bazant’s review paper on his website in March 2010 and obtained the text that way,” says [new editor Roland] Zengerle.

Hat tip: Andre Picard

15 thoughts on “University of Waterloo suspends researcher who published plagiarized paper — in his own journal”

  1. Good to hear a follow-up on this. I’ve noticed the past two days that all my professors at UWaterloo have really been emphasising the plagiarism policies of the University. Normally they mentioned the standard policy in passing but they all have spent more then a few seconds on it. I do not doubt that this is a coincidence.

    I am also unware of this but how difficult will it be for Dr. Li to obtain grants in the future?

    1. If he’s working off CIHR or NSERC grants, which are the major “hard” science-oriented federal grant agencies in Canada, Li will most likely get a pretty stiff penalty in line with the US ORI policies. UWaterloo has had a serious slate of high-profile plagiarism cases in the last 6-8 months or so, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he recieves a very stern institutional punishment as well. UWaterloo has been marketing itself as the next major university in Canada, especially in physics and engineering research (and they deserve the title, cheaters notwithstanding). They’ve got some very public, very embarassing egg on their face here.

      1. As I understand, the retracted paper is a review, so by comparison with stealing original research, this case of plagiarism is of lesser weight. Maybe Canadian is not Li’s and Daghighi’s first language, so they decided to make life easier for themselves and copy-and-paste. What makes it worse is the fact that the paper was published in a journal founded and edited by one of the authors.

      2. Hahaha, “Canadian is not their first language.” Chirality, don’t know if you meant that to be funny, but it sure is!

      3. Indeed, it was my shot at being funny – after all, most Canadians speak Australian. Joking aside, I think the UW should have done more forensic investigation concerning the strange submission date of Li and Daghigi’s manuscript.
        1. “Li and Daghighi’s report states that it was submitted for publication on Jan. 15, 2010”
        2. “Bazant says he is still puzzled over how Li and Daghighi got a hold of his report, but says he may have posted a copy on his MIT website, after the paper was accepted for publication on Jan. 11, 2010.”
        3. “The Editorial Board was told, that Yasaman Daghighi saw a preprint of Prof. Bazant’s review paper on his website in March 2010 and obtained the text that way,”.
        The timeline makes no sense, that is, it does not explain how it was possible for Daghighi to plagiarize the paper on or before Jan 15, 2010. The UW should check if Zengerle’s review was available on his website any time before Jan. 15, 2010. If it was, they should check if Daghigi accessed and downloaded this document on or before Jan 15, 2010. They should also check who was a referee for Bazant’s manuscript. This needs to be checked because if a journal editor were able to forge a submission date of a manuscript, it would jeopardize the way in which priority in science is established. Similarly, if a referee lifts stuff from a manuscript he is supposed to review, it a big no no. After all, the referee would be tempted to delay the review process or reject the manuscript for publication.

  2. That’s pretty awful in a hyper-competitive environment like that where students are flunked out routinely for simply being in the bottom 1/5 of their programme. It surely makes honest success look like an illusion.

    Given the consequences students would face, I hope the consequences to this person in a leadership position will make some sense.

    1. Not the first time, try this one, where 2 of the 3 EiC’s together published 2 plagiarized (and sometimes filled with amusing errors) in their own journal. After detailed complaints, the publisher (Wiley) let them silently revise the (online) papers. After more complaints to the board, executives, etc, that almost entirely got stonewalled, their names silently disappeared from the masthead. It’s not clear whether those complaints did it or more that came in from others, as people in the field certainly knew about it. (About half the Editorial Board quit after the first round.)

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