Duplication forces retractions of two 15-year-old entomology papers

jtbA Brazilian entomologist, Claudio Jose von Zuben, has been forced to retract two papers from 1997 after editors became aware that he and his colleagues had used the same figure in both.

First, the notice from Memórias do Instituto Oswaldo Cruz:

The article “Diffusion Model Applied to Postfeeding Larval Dispersal in Blowflies (Diptera: Calliphoridae)” published in Memorias do Instituto do Oswaldo Cruz 92(2):281-286, 1997, dx.doi.org/10.1590, authored by RC Bassanezi, MBF Leite, WAC Godoy, CJ Von Zuben, FJ Von Zuben, and SF dos Reis has been retracted. We have been informed about the use of graphical figure presentation published in Journal of Theoretical Biology vol. 185(4):523-531  1997, and following a careful analysis of the content in both papers, we concluded that the figure presented in Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz 92(2):281-286, 1997 constitutes plagiarism. Consequently, we decided to retract this paper.

Adeilton Alves Brandão,
Editor de Publicação

And here’s the notice from the Journal of Theoretical Biology:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors-in-Chief.

The article is a duplicate of a paper that has already been published in Mem. Inst. Oswaldo Cruz, 92 (1997) 281-286, http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0074-02761997000200025 as well as J. Appl. Entomol., 120 (1996) 379-382, http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1439-0418.1996.tb01623.x.

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.

The duplication was apparently first reported on the now-shuttered Science Fraud site. Here’s a screen capture of the post. The JTB paper has been cited 15 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, while the Oswaldo Cruz study has been cited 8 times.

Von Zuben is a professor at UNESP and a founder of the Brazilian Association of Forensic Entomology. He was also an author of a paper retracted in 2011, and of another that was slated to be retracted but was eventually just subjected to an Expression of Concern. In July 2011, he wrote a letter to the Ciencia Brasil blog questioning those who were critical of his work.

16 thoughts on “Duplication forces retractions of two 15-year-old entomology papers”

  1. I’m confused. Did he publish the same study three times? Or did the three studies have partial or significant overlaps?

    In general, if the only thing he did was re-use one figure from one paper (as suggested in the write-up), I wouldn’t want to see both papers retracted. But the second retraction notice makes it sound like he published the same study three times.

    1. This is becoming a trend. When two submission-to-publication periods of the same material overlap, the two published papers resulting from these submissions are retracted.

      1. It’s definitely a no-no to submit to more than one journal at a time, and retracting both as punishment/deterrant seems ok to me. I’m just not clear on whether he re-used one figure of many, or actually submitted entire duplicate papers. The RW post and retraction notices are not clear to me and I can’t locate the original articles.

    2. Actually there is a third study, not mentioned in the SF Blog post, but showing in the retraction notice, from J. App. Entomol. Thus, the same story was published 3 times, and thus 2 of them were retracted.

      I would also like to add that this group had a whole book retracted by Springer, which should be named “Forensic Entomology: New Trends and Technologies”, exactly for the same reasons. This made quite a hit in the area.

      Some say they suffered several paper rejections at that time, and even bans. It is interesting to see SF Blog still doing a great job even after being shut down.

    3. Hypothetical (but realistic case): I plan to re-use 3 figures that I had published in a review about 5 years ago, but never had the opportunity to publish the back-log of data until now. I plan to use the same 3 figures in my original research paper. When I submit the paper, I plan to indicate in the Acknowledgements (and figure legends) the full source oif the figures, after receiving permission by the publisher to re-use my 3 figures. The figures are essential for understanding the paper’s data. 1) Should I also indicate anything in the cover letter to the journal? 2) What risk is there that a retraction can occur if the figure is identical but appropriate copyright permissions and indications of the source have been fully and clearly indicated (e.g., in figure legends)? If in fact a figure was identical, without appropriate reporting of the original source, and post-publication this “error” or duplication was detected, then why can an erratum not suffice. Why is a retracton necessary? Seems like some of the retractions taking place seem to be revenge calls. For example, examination of the authors of this paper (in several data-bases: Scopus, PubMed, SpringerLink, GoogleScholar, etc.) will reveal Dr. Godoy to be a LEADING blowfly specialist in the world. Can you imagine the massive negative repurcussions for him just to be associated with this retraction, and possibly not even responsible for the figure replication? The poor dude is just “stuck in the middle”of all those authors. Now he looks like the victim of a crime… Other entomologists will start to look at him obliquely rather than straight-in-the-eye. I guess my question is: at what point is a retraction an act of aggression or witch-hunt, or excessive use of academic power (by editors, who could be perceived as having conflicts of interest)?

      1. AllOutWar,
        There are two issues, copyright and re-use of data. The re-use of data is more serious. Most journals have an official policy that you can’t re-use data that has been published elsewhere. (I suppose this is partly economic on the publisher’s part — they want to be able to say that our journal is the only place you can find this data.) As an official policy, agreeing makes a contract and you can get retracted for re-using the data.

        For that reason I have never known an author to publish original data in a review article FIRST. When I write a review and want a figure from my own work to illustrate a point, I do the experiment over again (so there is no copyright problem) and cite my prior work. I never publish original data first in a review article, because that almost always bars future publication of the same data.

        The only hope of an author in that situation is to disclose to the editor at time of submission. Then, if the submission is permitted, there would probably be a requirement to disclose in the acknowledgments, “the data in figure 1, 3 and 4 was previously published in a review article….” Some journals also require that you disclose if data was ever presented at a meeting as a poster or abstract, even though such does not officially count as “prior publication”.

        1. StrongDreams, I was not referring to a data set. In that sense, I fully agree with you about the desire for exclusivity by publishers. That’s a fair intellectual request. My point was ONLY about figures. But, as you suggest, the best way is to be honest and frank with the editors upon submission to avoid retractions 30 years down the road!

          1. AllOutWar,
            You are talking about figures without data? I suppose they are illustrations of mechanisms or concepts? If there is no data involved, then you should have no problem reprinting the figures as long as you get permission of the original copyright holder. Or, simply redraw them illustrating the same concepts with different artwork. You can’t copyright a mechanism or concept, only a particular artistic rendering of the concept or mechanism, so change the rendering.

        2. I would be surprised if many journals have a policy that you can’t re-present data that’s already been published. If you do lab work, it may be plausible to repeat an experiment, but if you ask a time allocation committee to use a telescope to reproduce data you already have, their answer will always be “No.”

          In an analysis paper, I would expect someone to republish data they intend to analyse, and appropriately cite where it came from. I’ve certainly included a data table, for instance, saying “I took this data table from Buddy & Guy 2013, and this is the data I’ll be applying my model to” – or something to that effect. Similar things should (and do) happen when you want to compare a model to already published observations – plot your model, and present an (already published) observation alongside it for comparison.

          1. In reply to Andrew February 15, 2013 at 7:17 am

            “appropriately cite where it came from. I’ve certainly included a data table, for instance, saying “I took this data table from Buddy & Guy 2013, and this is the data I’ll be applying my model to” – or something to that effect.”

            A general point. I don’t think you are supposed to reuse images/data and pretend they are new.

  2. I happen to know a couple of things:
    1) Dr Zwirner from Abnormal Science Blog had already questioned two studies by Zuben in which clearly the same data were published twice, see in the link below:

    2) As readers of the above link will notice, some comments cast doubts over even other twin studies by Zuben. He indignantly wrote to that blog with the words below:
    “The denouncements that were published in your blog, involving scientific papers in which I am a co-author (papers dealing with larval dispersion), are unfounded and pure nonsense. At the opportunity of the publication of the erratum of the mentioned figure, the spreadsheet containing the whole datasets were submitted to the editor of the Journal Iheringia
    (Serie Zoologia) for analysis. So, nothing remained obscure. With respect to the denouncements related to other two papers, they are also unfounded, besides being a recurrent attempt of the denouncer, given that
    he/she has made the same denouncements in 2008. It is easy to refute false denouncements when the material in question is a published one, and therefore open to the access of anyone interested in checking the facts. Given that the two papers deal with completely distinct scenarios of larval dispersion, how could one paper be a reproduction of the results of the other paper? It is time to stop paying attention to the evasive, recurrent and inconsistent initiatives of the denouncer. I am a researcher who esteems serious and well-founded scientific contributions, which can be attested by more than sixty papers I have published along the last sixteen years. Sincerely, Prof. Dr. Claudio J. von Zuben”

    I hope he would also write here.

    1. Some further details on this case of which I was informed:

      Publishing a post on SF Blog seemed crucial to elicit a quick response from publishers. The SF blog post was forwarded with additional concerns via email to all responsible editors from the three periodicals involved, with no reply from any of them. After this, COPE was contacted, and they instructed the complainer to try reaching the publishers. Wiley-Blackwell and Elsevier were quick to answer, and both contacted the author and looked into the papers. The retractions came out after 5 months.

      Some of the authors removed the papers from their CVs and never commented on the fact to local colleagues.

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