Hey authors, “Renewable Energy” doesn’t mean you can recycle words

renewableenergycoverRenewable Energy may cover conservation, but that doesn’t mean it expects its authors to recycle their own words. The Elsevier journal is retracting a biodiesel paper it published in February 2012 by a group of Chinese researchers who published much the same work in another title a month later. That periodical, the Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, from Springer, has retracted its version as well.

Here’s the notice in Renewable Energy:

The article is a partial duplicate of a paper that has been published in Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society, Vol. 89 (3), in the title ‘Optimization of Biodiesel Production Using a Magnetically Stabilized Fluidized Bed Reactor’ with the page range of 497–504. The DOI number of the published article is ‘10.1007/s11746-011-1924-7’.

One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that the paper is not under consideration for publication elsewhere. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

And, from JAOCS:

RETRACTED ARTICLE: Optimization of Biodiesel Production Using a Magnetically Stabilized Fluidized Bed Reactor

A biodiesel production process using magnetically stabilized fluidized bed reactor (MSFBR) has been developed based on the refined cottonseed oil. The reactant flow rate and magnetic field intensity effects on the nanometer magnetic catalyst behavior in the column were investigated. Orthogonal experiments (L4(2)3) were applied to optimize the best transesterification reaction conditions. Reaction temperature, methanol to oil molar ratio, and reactant flow rate were the main factors to influence transesterification conversion efficiency. These three factors chosen for the present investigation were based on the results of single-factor tests. The optimum transesterification reaction conditions of cottonseed oil were determined in MSFBR as follows: methanol to oil molar ratio 8:1, 40 cm3 min−1 reactant flow rate, 225 Oe magnetic field intensity and reaction temperature of 65 °C, the conversion efficiency reached 97% in 100 min. The cold filter plugging point and kinematic viscosity of cottonseed oil biodiesel were higher than that described by Chinese specifications of biodiesel because of the special fatty acid profiles of cottonseed oil. The activity stability of the nanometer magnetic solid catalyst in MSFBR was much better than that in the autoclave stirred reactor (ASR).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief because substantial parts were simultaneously submitted to and published in Renewable Energy 38 (2012) 10-15. DOI 10.1016/j.renene.2011.06.010

We’re curious about the wording of the Elsevier retraction, which acknowledges that more could have been done, in theory, to prevent the duplicate publication from occurring. However, from our reading of the dates, the Springer version came second (March comes after February most years) and so the editors there would have had at least a narrow window to catch the Renewable Energy paper in print before releasing their version.

Not that such a save would have been likely, requiring as it would someone to do a prophylactic screening of every manuscript in the queue against all recently published articles on any given day — which underscores the lack of real-time capacity of screening for duplication and plagiarism.

0 thoughts on “Hey authors, “Renewable Energy” doesn’t mean you can recycle words”

    1. “March comes after February most years” – except leap years.
      The double retraction makes little sense to me because nothing prevents the Chinese authors to re-submit the manuscript to either journal. Because it has already been accepted for publication twice, there is no reason why it should be reject this time around. The journal will then have to print this manuscript again which will consume a few trees that could be better used to make more biodiesel. Or chopsticks.

  1. Talking about self-plagiarism… What do you guys think of this one (a friend pointed this out to me)?
    It looks like the first one was published at the end of 2009. The second one was published later and copies almost verbatim the first two pages or so. Plus, the second one has an open access, free distribution, clause that I imagine would be problematic for the first journal! Perhaps there is an entirely innocent explanation, I’m curious to hear your opinions.



    1. The first two pages of these two papers look almost identical. Perhaps there should be an open thread, where people report cases and URLs like these?

  2. Elsevier seems to use a template for retractions and the phrase “The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process” seems to be part of that template. That seems to be the only reason that this phrase ended up in this retraction notice….

    1. Interesting that I&A apparently didn’t notice that… Google thinks that I&A have copy-pasted that part of the notice in 43 of their RW posts: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22The+scientific+community+takes+a+very+strong+view+on+this+matter+and+apologies+are+offered+to+readers+of+the+journal+that+this+was+not+detected+during+the+submission+process%22+site:www.retractionwatch.com

      I actually think that, even though the wording may appear a bit overly politically correct (and lawspeak), such a template is the best way to keep editors from trying to put in their own words the inevitable “this was bad and we’re sorry we let it happen”. Although it could be interesting to see if the phrasing would present any patterns reflecting cultural differences of sense of hierarchy, power, and directness of speech.

      1. Thanks for your comment. We are, of course, aware of Elsevier’s template for retraction notices. It was the apologizing for not detecting the paper during the submission process that caught our eye in this case.

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