Authors “regretfully” retract genomics paper for plagiarism

jasbcoverAuthors of a 2012 article in the Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology have retracted it for plagiarism. 

The article, “Progress of genome wide association study in domestic animals,” came from a group of chicken geneticists in China affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture in Harbin and Northeast Agricultural University, in the same city.

According to the retraction notice:

Progress of genome wide association study in domestic animals” published in Journal of Animal Science and Biotechnology 2012 (3:26), is regretfully retracted by the authors due to substantial textual overlap with previously published sources. We apologize to all affected parties for the inconvenience.

Finding passages of “textual overlap” isn’t difficult manually — and would have been even easier with detection software, which makes us wonder whether any such screening occurred.

From the JASB paper:

Lavender foal syndrome (LFS) is a lethal inherited disease of horses that has a suspected autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.

From Brooks et al in PLoS Genetics, published in 2010:

Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS) is a lethal inherited disease of horses with a suspected autosomal recessive mode of inheritance.

The authors do reference the Brooks article, but after a subsequent sentence describing the findings of the previous study. Similar examples appear throughout the article — which, while not making what the researchers did right, indicates that they may not have understood it to be plagiarism since, at least in the instances we observed, they did cite their sources.

0 thoughts on “Authors “regretfully” retract genomics paper for plagiarism”

  1. Having had more than 25 years’ experience teaching students, I know that the standards of what constitutes plagiarism are not taught equally in all countries. In some countries it is considered more or less acceptable and routine to reuse purely introductory material from other papers in your own work, especially if your own command of English is less than perfect. I don’t know the solution to this. We could either (a) be more lenient in such cases or (b) try to unify standards across all countries.

  2. Wow, I couldn’t contain an audible laugh after reading that example of text overlap. How many ways could one rephrase that sentence, I wonder?

    ‘Lavender Foal Syndrome (LFS) is a lethal inherited disease of horses with a suspected autosomal recessive mode of inheritance’

    My attempt: LFS is a fatal equine disease which is speculated to be autosomal recessive in nature.

    I guess that I’m getting at is that for a somewhat factual statement, should we expect authors to pull out the thesaurus each time? I wonder how many times authors have independantly come up with a sentence like, ‘There are two classifications of multiple sclerosis – sporatic and familial’.

    1. I think were it just that sentence in isolation everyone would brush it off as accidental or coincidental. That sort of thing gets detected all the time when automated plagiarism detection services are used to screen documents. Reusing certain phrases is just a natural consequence of how language and memory works. However, when a paper contains many duplicated items from the same source it becomes rather hard to conclude the authors did anything other than copy text from that source.

      There have been a number of comments by academics from the west who have spent time in China on how students there tend to view plagiarism. It’s often considered perfectly acceptable to copy sentences and other blocks of text, and one can assume that students and researchers writing for a Chinese language audience are rarely punished for it. There may be a serious culture shock moving from those regional publications to major international journals.

    2. I completely agree. Why try your utmost to say something simple in yet another way just because a group of crusaders insists applying what is obviously a completely idiotic rule? True plagiarism is taking over either someone’s else’s work without citing it or capturing entire blocks of text. If you cite someone like these people did, why not use more or less the same sentence to present a fact? While, admittedly I have not read the paper and therefore cannot judge whether or not they took over entire blocks of text, it seems that this is not the case. In my opinion, this plagiarism nonsense should end. In fact, even if you use your own sentence from some past review, which could easily happen because this is after all your stuff so it’s in your brain, they call that self-plagiarism.

      Jan Vijg

    3. Agreed that sometimes it is impossible to rephrase text in a way that is as or more clear than original. But I was always taught that when you used text verbatim you simply put it in quotation marks with the citation following the text. Not doing so is plagiarism as it is representing someone elses words as yours. The sciences have something to learn on this topic from humanities and social scienes.

  3. That plagiarism is rampant in Chinese science is known well by Chinese scientists. The following passage is from a note by Yuehong Zhang (Nature, Vol. 467, p. 153, 2010): “Since October 2008, we have
    detected unoriginal material in a staggering 31% of papers submitted to the Journal of Zhejiang University–Science (692 of 2,233 submissions).”

  4. please tell me there was more than just one sentence… if not.. serious overkill. No need to retract imho.

    blocks of text, ok. One sentence? ja voll mein ….

  5. A considerable fraction of plagiarism is a consequence of poor English writing skills. In ultra-specialized fields, in which non-native English writers may survive with less than 300 words, some authors just recycle standard phrasing found in a random small subset of articles in their discipline. This is obviously very different from pure, offending plagiarism, i.e. copy-paste of Wikipedia pages or scholar articles. I guess the retraction of the JASB paper should be placed somewhere between these boundaries. However, as pointed by Terence Pang, what about borderline cases? Where is the limit between misconduct and acceptable plagiarism? After all, it would be possible, and maybe acceptable, to produce combinatoric papers, like combinatoric poetry, following the example of Raymond Queneau’s “A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems” (A thin book, published in 1961, which contains 100,000,000,000,000 different sonnets, all with the correct structure for a sonnet, and all telling a different, sensible story).

    1. I don’t think we should accept any form of plagarism, so ‘acceptable plagarism’ is not on the table. I think publishers, editors and authors need to agree upon a definition of plagarism in the context of scientific publishing. While I believe none of us would dispute that copying paragraphs constitutes blatent plagarism, but, as Sylvain and others have noted, what about simple, descriptive sentences which tend towards being factual in nature?

      Also, and more importantly, what sort of guidance can be provided to authors from non-english speaking countries with regards to checking of their manuscripts for plagarism? Should journals make the extra effort to run their manuscripts through plagarism detection software prior to the review process?

  6. If you run this paper through something like turnitin (I just have) you see there is a LOT more than one sentence plagiarised. The overall score is 46%, and most paragraphs except the conclusion have substantial blocks of it.

  7. I wonder how much of it actually is detected. While reviewing, it’s easy to detect when there is a huge difference in the level of English between sentences. The discoveries you can make when you google the high level sentences!! For one paper I reviewed I not only found out that half of the methods were basically copy-pasted, but even the figures are just taken from that same paper with minor adjustments. Worst of all, this was not a paper written by a student, but by an assistant professor! But, yes, he did cite the paper he plagiarized, so I guess for him there was no problem.

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