A first? Dental journal retracts three papers because authors didn’t pay publication charges

dmj_33_1Dental Materials Journal has retracted three papers by different groups of authors for “violation of our publishing policies and procedures” — which turns out to be a polite way of saying “they wouldn’t pay our fees.”

The articles are:

Morinda citrifolia leaves enhance osteogenic differentiation and mineralization of human periodontal ligament cells.
Boonanantanasarn K, Janebodin K, Suppakpatana P, Arayapisit T, Rodsutthi JA, Chunhabundit P, Boonanuntanasarn S, Sripairojthikoon W.
Dent Mater J. 2014;33(1):149.

In vitro osteoinduction of human mesenchymal stem cells in biomimetic surface modified titanium alloy implants.
Santander S, Alcaine C, Lyahyai J, Pérez MA, Rodellar C, Doblaré M, Ochoa I.
Dent Mater J. 2014;33(1):148.

A three-dimensional finite element analysis of the effects of restorative materials and post geometry on stress distribution in mandibular molar tooth restored with post-core crown.
Mahmoudi M, Saidi A, Gandjalikhan Nassab SA, Hashemipour MA.
Dent Mater J. 2014;33(1):147.

In each case, the retraction notices read:

This article has been retracted by the Editorial Board of Dental Materials Journal due to violation of our publishing policies and procedures as of December 1, 2013.
We weren’t sure what that was supposed to mean, so we emailed the journal — from the Japanese Society for Dental Materials and Devices — for clarification.  Here’s what they told us:

They had been retracted because of the unpayment of publication charge.

We haven’t seen that as grounds for retraction before. Has anyone else?

42 thoughts on “A first? Dental journal retracts three papers because authors didn’t pay publication charges”

  1. Were the journal open access? If so, it cements (pun intended) the impression that some OA journals are vicious money-making operations.

    Albert Gjedde MD DSc FRSC FACNP MAE
    Professor and Chair
    Dept of Neuroscience and Pharmacology
    University of Copenhagen

  2. I think many scientists have nobel like findings and no support to publish them due publication fees, but I doubt those dental papers would fall into such a category.

    1. Is that because they are dental papers, because they didn’t pay, or because of who the authors are? This comment seems a bit condesending; was it intended to be so?

  3. I guess this goes hand-in-hand with retractions for plagiarism, where the issue is the behavior of the authors rather than validity of the findings.

    Questions….would it be (un)ethical for others to cite those papers? It seems obvious that the answer is no in the case of plagiarism, as it damages the whole scientific community. Unpaid fees on the other hand are mostly/wholly a matter between the authors and the publisher.

    Another question…would it be (un)ethical for the authors to include those papers in their Resumés? Again presuming the work has been done by them and the results are valid, it’s unclear why be forced to pretend the papers never existed.

    It’d be good to know what others think about this.

    1. And will it be self plagiarism if the authors resubmit and publish those papers in another journal? And who is the copyright owner, the retracting journal or the authors?

  4. Why were they published in the first place if the fees had not been paid? Another case of sloppy handling by the publishers.

    1. Yes, that’s what I would expect. And if that is the case, I would be very upset that the retraction notice is not more honest. “We published before receiving the fees.” Violation of standards sounds like an author error. I wonder if authors could sue for damaged reputation.

    2. Maybe it’s sort of like having a credit card. I can charge as much as I like on my card in any given month, but if I don’t make the minimum payment at the end of the month, it negatively affects my credit. If I continue to miss the minimum payment, eventually my charging privileges will be suspended. If I continue to ignore my card long enough, ultimately my credit card company will end my charging privileges altogether, and I’ll have to prove my creditworthiness to them all over again–they obviously won’t just take my word for it that they can trust me to make the minimum payments.

      TLDR–maybe the journal assumed the authors would be good for the payment, and trusted that they could publish the material in the journal first and have the payment come second. Payment never came, so the material got yanked. Not the way I’d do business, I’d ask for all fees upfront before publishing, but hey, the journal’s entitled to make its own decisions in that regard.

  5. Wow. That is very misleading and sour retraction notice from the journal. Having a paper retracted is a BIG deal, and there is a big difference between not paying publication fees and other things such as plagiarism and fraud. I appreciate the journals right to clamp down on “deadbeat” authors, and in a way I think it is good for us all to be reminded of the importance of publication fees, but retractions have to be transparent if they are to serve a useful purpose.

  6. I wonder how many papers find no readers at all, but keep the publishers alive due to publication fees; how many papers where not retracted by the publishers due to possible fights for getting back the publication fees…

    1. I assume the publisher in this case might have asked the authors. I wonder why neither their institutions nor they themselves paid; how much was the amount of the publication fees? Maybe they did not understand that there are publication fees, which may be the reason many postdocs in the world can’t publish.

        1. Can the journal provide concrete proof that every other author paid and that none received a discount? If I were the authors, I wouldn’t sit there passively. Fight back! defend your intellectual contribution and demand a full discount. I am quite tired of seeing the intellectual base being double-taxed, first for their intellect, then for their wallets. Although, I do admit that if the instructions for authors does state this, were the authors expecting a free ride? I suspect this phenomenon is much more widespread than most think. The only difference is that most “retractions” take place before the paper is published. Can the journal force authors to pay if they in fact are financially destitute? Would that not constitute some form of forced, illegal behavior? Judging from the names, I assume that the authors are from Thailand, Mexico and Iran. To them, 90,000 Yen, or about 100 US$, would potentially be a month’s salary (if about a government researcher level), so they could have a figting chance. My guess is that they will passively shy away.

  7. Wow, this is preposterous, even if what Anthony (above) says is true. Considering this is a failure of the journal submission system, retracting a paper without any scientific wrongdoing is a dangerous and frightening abuse of the retraction system. I’m surprised more people aren’t up in arms about this.

    1. … but is it good scientific practice to accept the publishing rules of a journal, and the Editor and Publisher expected in good faith the payment for their work… So, I think it is the responsibility of the authors (and their institutions) to pay for the publishers work, if they agreed to the conditions of the journal. With not paying they have to accept the risk of a retraction. What else could a publisher do?

      1. I disagree – it seems in this case the publishers published the articles before the payments were actually made. The risk for the authors should only be that their paper is not published (and perhaps they get fined depending on the terms of the journal). The risk for authors should NOT be that the publishers publish a paper without payment and then retract it. Retraction of a publication has serious professional consequences for the author. As Tom notes, retraction in the absence of scientific wrongdoing is ” dangerous and frightening abuse of the retraction system”.

      2. I sympathize with the publishers feeling like they have been taken advantage of in this system. However, there are myriad alternatives to retracting the article. The most reasonable alternative to me, at least at this point, would be the publisher refusing to allow the authors to publish articles in this journal in the future, until payment has been made. Indeed, I could see this extending to any journal published by this publisher.

        Another option may be for the publisher to approach the home institution for these authors to try to receive payment. Not sure of the legality of such recourse, but it at least seems reasonable.

        And of course these don’t even include the ways in which the publisher could (and should, I guess) setup a system so as to ensure payment before publishing the article.

        And frankly, even if we were to accept that retraction is an appropriate solution (a big “if”), these retractions seem to have been done after only the “first offense,” so to speak, for each of these authors. That seems overly harsh in and of itself. But again, I think the central point is that this is an abuse of the retraction system, as detailed by others in the comments, etc.

        1. I have no sympathy for the publishers here. They chose to publish three papers, apparently without receiving payment by the due date. In doing so they broke their own rules. The authors surely aren’t responsible for that decision by the journal. Also, the journal hasn’t stated the authors refused to pay. For all we know, the authors sent a check and the journal didn’t cash it.

  8. I agree fully with Tom above. While I do not agree with the authors failing to pay, “retraction” of the work is the wrong way to go, and creates an unholy mess (as noted in comments above – copyright, republishing etc). This was a poor move by the Journal. They should have marked it down to a part of the learning process, and changed their system so that it does not happen again. Publication of the articles without having the required charges in hand is their mistake – and the fact that it apparently happened three times in a short period simply screams that they need to improve their system.

    1. Just reading the retraction notice again …
      “due to violation of OUR publishing policies and procedures as of December 1, 2013.” (emphasis added)

      Strictly speaking, it only says that the publishing policies and procedures were violated. It doesn’t specify that it was the authors…

      Which is even more reason why “retraction”, with all its implied and assumed meaning, is dangerous and abusive. I do hope the authors have some recourse to address the negative impact on their reputations.

  9. Interesting. Punishing authors is not grounds for retracting articles. ‘Retraction is a mechanism for correcting the literature and alerting readers to publications that contain such seriously flawed or erroneous data that their findings and conclusions cannot be relied upon’. To quote COPE guidelines on retraction (http://publicationethics.org/files/retraction%20guidelines.pdf). BioMed Central is a member of COPE.
    Elizabeth Moylan, Biology Editor, BioMed Central

    1. This is financial revenge, pure and simple. A sickening consequence of how the financial recession is affecting the world of publishing. But let’s face it, the message will be quite clear to anyone who follows without paying. However, the onus is now on the journal and publisher to PROVE that every other author before them has in fact paid. If they cannot prove this, then the authors should make a hypothetical claim to the journal: “Not everyone pays, so why should we”?

  10. The more one looks at it, the more fundamental the question appears. Is an article “retracted” when the publisher retracts it? (Or the editor…let’s not make the distinction now, to keep things simple)

    If the publisher removes the article from its publication, and yet the article has been published already, and its authors can send PDFs of it to anybody who requests them, is the publisher’s action an actual _retraction_?

    Basically authors are paying DMJ so that readers don’t have to (all articles on DMJ come with a “Free PDF” icon and link next to them). The publisher is getting $300 or more for providing the publishing infrastructure and the peer-reviewed (sanctioned) blessing. Once the article has been peer-reviewed and published, the publisher’s role appears to have ended, apart from being an easy repository for past articles.

    Nothing would prevent some automated web crawler from going through all the free PDFs and copying them somewhere else. Maybe there is already an app that does that.

    So the article was good enough to pass peer-review, and good enough to be published, and good enough to be downloaded for free by anybody who wanted to. From this point of view the payment of the fees becomes immaterial. It really has no impact on the validity of its contents and that’s different from the case of plagiarism, where every word gets the stench of it.

    I would therefore say those articles are for all intents and purposes still _not_ retracted. The issues surrounding them are a case of “Caveat Editor”, not “Caveat Lector”.

    1. Not paying the obligatory fees may, originally, not be a “scientific” wrongdoing, but it is a wrongdoing by a scientist or his institution. Therefore the manuscript did not reach the known rules of the journal and has no right remaining without retraction, this may be a warning to other authors (and institutions) signing contracts. Outside the scientific world, this may be even worse than plagiarizing, but only outside the scientific world.

      1. Yes, it’s a wrongdoing. But, again, is it worthy of retraction? I don’t think so, not by a mile. It’s like posting a PDF on your website–most of us do it even when we’re not supposed to, i.e. it’s a “wrongdoing,” but no one would ever argue for the article to be retracted because we’ve posted it on our own website! I don’t see how these cases are different from that trivial example in any truly meaningful sense. Wrongdoing? Yes. Retraction-worthy? Not at all.

      2. You’re correct Eibl …although ultimately this is all a mess created by a publisher evidently accepting promises of future payment.

        The scientific world produces knowledge that cannot be forgotten once it’s published – that’s why the situation isn’t as clear cut as in other walks of life. If a team wins a sports league and it’s found not having paid all its dues, the trophy is taken back and all victories removed from the record. But if a Prof X finds the best way to fix a denture and tells the world about it, that’s still the best way even if there is an unhappy publisher about it.

        1. The editor and reviewers trusted the authors and expected both, following the rules and accuracy of the data. Not paying the fees by the authors fully undermines the original trust in their data – and therefore could be considered as potential dishonest behaviour even in the scientific sense. It would be interesting to hear why an institution did not pay the fees.

          1. Equally, we could assume the authors trusted the journal to follow its own rules and not publish before payment was confirmed. We could also assume the authors trusted the journal to follow the COPE guidelines on retraction (http://publicationethics.org/files/retraction%20guidelines.pdf).

            As to the fees, my institution has a history of paying bills very late, usually after a 60 day penalty notice. How does this make me guilty of scientific misconduct?

      3. The problem with retraction is that it automatically implies misconduct on the part of the authors. Most comments here assume the authors chose not to pay and are therefore in the wrong. Nothing in the publisher’s statement says that authors refused to pay. At this point, we don’t know why the authors didn’t pay by the due date. What if the invoices never got sent? Or it got held up in a authors’ institutions invoice payment systems? Or got lost in the mail?

        Irrespective of what the authors did, the journal chose to publish the papers. If publication happened without receiving payment from the authors, the publishers have breached their own rules. How is that the fault of the authors?

        1. Retractions must serve only one purpose, to correct the literature, and only under two circumstances: a) when duplication occurs, of text, data, tables or figures (when the second or original source have nither been referenced, or indicated); b) when serious plagiarism occurs. A retraction based on anything else is an abuse, of course, of the intended academic purpose. Discretionary use of errata, corrigenda or expressions of concern are based on small errors, or where honest, easily reparable mistakes can be repaired with a PDF file, without changing fundamentally the main conclusions of the paper, or its conten’s integrity. However, what does the publisher do? I suggest that the journal re-instate the three papers, retract the retraction note, and add a PDF with an expression of concern indicating that publishing fees were not paid. Then, they should ensure that in the future, in all cases, that all authors pay before a paper is published, or return the copyright to authors and reject the paper within a reasonable amount of time, e.g., 45 or 60 days.

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