“Different but similar” data lead to retraction of fuel cell paper

intjhydroenergycoverA group of researchers from Taiwan has been forced to retract their 2012 paper in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy for what appears to be a case of double submission.

The paper was titled “Electricity harvest from wastewaters using microbial fuel cell with sulfide as sole electron donor.”

As the retraction notice explains:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Authors. The authors acknowledge that this paper covered the same research topic as an earlier paper by them (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ijhydene.2012.01.092) presenting different but similar experimental results.

What’s puzzling is that the earlier paper, “Electricity harvest from nitrate/sulfide-containing wastewaters using microbial fuel cell with autotrophic denitrifier, Pseudomonas sp. C27,”  also appeared in the October issue of the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy. In fact, it covered pages 15827 to 15832, while the retracted article ran on pages 15787–15791.

A clue here is that the October 2012 issue of the journal carried presentations from the 2011 Asian Bio-Hydrogen and Biorefinery Symposium, which suggests that the Taiwan group submitted at least two papers to the conference on highly overlapping subjects and that the decision to retract one and not the other may well have been a coin toss.

That sort of either/or-ness seems to be a motif with this journal. When we last reported on the IJHE, in November 2012, it had retracted a paper, also from a symposium, whose authors maintained that their work had “merit” despite also having enough errors to merit retraction.

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