Plant paper retracted when new species turns out not to be so new

nordic plantIn December, a group of biologists in Thailand published a paper in the Nordic Journal of Botany heralding the discovery of a new species of plant:

Bauhinia saksuwaniae, a new species from northeastern Thailand is described and illustrated. It appears to be an endemic and endangered species. The new species is obviously distinct from all other species of Thai Bauhinia in having large orbicular persistent bracteoles forming a cup-shape and enclosing a young floral bud.

But then came this retraction:

The following article from the Nordic Journal of Botany, ‘Bauhinia saksuwaniae sp. nov. (Leguminosae-Caesalpinioideae) from Thailand.’ by Sawai Mattapha, Pranom Chantaranothai and Somran Suddee, published online on 11 December 2013 in Wiley Online Library (, has been retracted by agreement between the authors, the journal Editor in Chief, Torbjörn Tyler and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The retraction has been agreed due to the publication of a species under the name B. nakhonpranomensis, prior to the publication of this article.

10 thoughts on “Plant paper retracted when new species turns out not to be so new”

  1. Are the two names published by the same group? Otherwise there should be no need for a retraction. Handling of publication of names for the same taxon is regulated by the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants – as it is not unthinkable that independent description might happen, as it has throughout history…

    1. Wannachai Chatan Department of Botany, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University published first.

      Retracted group:
      Sawai Mattapha, Pranom Chantaranothai and Somran Suddee
      Dept of Biology, Faculty of Science, Udon Thani Rajabhat Univ., TH-41000 Udon Thani, Thailand.
      *S. Mattapha, Dept of Biology, Faculty of Science, Udon Thani Rajabhat Univ., TH-41000 Udon Thani, Thailand

      Looks like different groups in different universities in Thailand, that both took trips to the same forest around 2012-2013, possibly submitted at around the same time and published a few months apart. Different journals, so it was not picked up.

  2. Indeed apparently there were no grounds for a retraction, and the new paper could actually contain interesting described aspects. Synonyms are common in taxonomy.

  3. Looks like the paper (re B nakhonpranomensis) that preceded this one was received at Phytokeys in 2012 and published in 2013:

    I wonder if both parties were aware of each other. They may both have been in the same woods at around the same time, and perhaps prepared manuscripts in parallel. The latter has a species-id entry, whereas the retracted article does not.

    1. It is a strange case. I guess the focus of the journal/publisher is not so much on the nomenclature, but rather on the novelty. So, the key word is “new”. A rough comparison of the botanical features reveals that most are similar but in fact several of the ranges are different. In a few cases, the features in one paper are not described in the other (e.g. more detailed description of stamens and filaments in Bn vs Bs). Even the hand-drawn sketches of the retracted paper reveal much more detail than the PhytoKeys paper. In some ways, it is a pity that the authors did not have an opportunity to re-submit the paper, de-emphasizing the novelty and actually given an opportunity to cite the Chatan (2013) paper and compere their data to the other one. I guess the paper could be downgraded to a Research Note or similar to de-emphasize the novelty. Some feedback by curators might be interesting. If I have time, I will contact a few I know and ask them for some feedback on the two papers, including some contacts at Kew. I feel that, considering that the paper was in the “in press” status, and not yet published, that the editor board could have evaluated all factors and given a fair opportunity to revise and re-submit, with acceptance being a “pending” status. Like several situations like this, surely some cool heads and common sense may have resolved the issue more diplomatically than a retraction? I agree with Deidentified, the coincidence of being in the same forest park at the same time is astonishing (maybe they met and then a race to publishing ensured?).

      1. “I guess the focus of the journal/publisher is not so much on the nomenclature, but rather on the novelty.” — Indeed, this defines all about modern publications, everything must be unexpected, groundbreaking, novel, a marvel… This really looks like some kind of race, where the “loser” got retracted…

        1. I find this to be a really troubling story. If someone is close enough to first that neither editors nor reviewers nor authors knew about the original finding… I think the scientific literature can deal with a little “note added in proof” or correction citing the other paper and explaining the misunderstanding.

          My question regarding the “real” reason for this retraction: did the authors fail to properly register this new species in some way?

          Not to imply that this happened, BUT… the only reason that I might think this sort of retraction could be valid (if there wasn’t a mistake):

          Since this is non-experimental science, it’s possible for 6 people to discover a species and to submit two papers with 3 authors each simultaneously and independently. I don’t know if this is generally considered OK/ethical, but retracting second publications of the same species would discourage this behavior.

          On that note, is anyone away of a situation where two authors/groups that gathered the same data, submitted it twice (alerting editors and cross citing) with strongly differing text/interpretation?

        2. After browsing the metadata of both papers

          Phytokeys paper
          …Received July 25, 2012; Accepted September 3, 2013.
          Published online Sep 9, 2013

          NJB paper
          Subject Editor: David Boufford. Accepted 22 February 2013
          “…published online on 11 December 2013”

          Phytokeys cites a June 2012 date of going into the forest and discovering the sample, and their manuscript was received in a month but took a year and a month for acceptance.
          The NJB paper mentions “a.s.l., Jul 2012”. This was definitely a race to the finish.

          I didn’t realize this kind of scenario could happen, but the proof is in the retraction notices.

          1. These dates makes the story even weirder: the NJB paper was accepted for publication about 6 months before the Phytokeys one, but published later because NJB took 11 months to get it online… If NJB had done its work correctly, that paper would have been the first… Whatever the case, I don’t see any reason for a retraction, just a correction that states that according to the botanical Code the other name is earlier and hence the valid one.

  4. As with Laufeyn (April 22, 2014 at 3:52 pm), I find this retraction bizarre. International Codes of Nomenclature were set up to deal with numerous problems including priority (and failures to comply with the codes). if there was no malfeasance, then there should have been no retraction.

    Suppose the papers actually describe similar but separate species? That should be an interesting nomenclatorial mess.

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