Author steps in to clarify vague tuberculosis retraction

You’ve got to love when an author is willing to detail the specifics of an unhelpful retraction notice.

This May, a paper came out in Journal of Thoracic Diseases about drug-resistant tuberculosis. It was retracted in June, for “some misconduct in the manuscript.”

Here’s the notice:

The article “Application status of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry in the identification and drug resistance of Mycobacterium tuberculosis” (doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2072-1439.2014.02.19) that appeared on page 512-516 of the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Thoracic Disease needs to be withdrawn due to some misconduct in the manuscript. We are sorry for the inconvenience caused.

Since that’s pretty vague and unhelpful, we reached out to corresponding author Jiayun Liu, who gave us a thorough rundown:

The review has been retracted at the request of authors.

The authors Ruixue Zhang, Yin Long, Wenfang He, Xiaoke Hao, and Jiayun Liu decided to retract the paper on the basis of following considerations: Some sentences of the review regarding the mechanisms of drug resistance are directly rewritten from another paper (Hrabák J, et al. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2013; 26(1):103-114) and the latter was not cited, which could be viewed as a form of plagiarism.

The authors are deeply sorry for the inconvenience caused to the journal and the scientific community.

Now, “could be viewed as a form of plagiarism” is one of those plagiarism euphemisms we really hate. But we certainly appreciate Liu’s willingness to give us the details, and wonder why the journal couldn’t see fit to include them.

The paper hasn’t been cited yet, according to Google Scholar.

2 thoughts on “Author steps in to clarify vague tuberculosis retraction”

  1. One would like to know just how many sentences were involved….one or two, certainly their explanation would be acceptable…..a whole paragraph, probably not….pages and pages, clearly unacceptable…

    1. I agree. The statement by the author was as bad as that by the publisher. One has to wonder, though, if a simple correction or erratum wouldn’t have sufficed. The authors could still extend their sincerest apologies in an open access erratum. A retraction based on an unclear amount of “borrowing” seems like aquite a vicious response to me. I think less damage could be done to the scientific literature if a more rational approach was adopted in cases where ALL authors would be willing to make a public declaration of their error, correct it by acknowledging the source and even extending an apology to the source that was not referenced. Although this story focuses on the working and lac of explanation of the retraction note, I think we need a new mind-set about retractions related to plagiarism. I believe that this witch-hunting based on self-plagiarism and plagiarism, which of course should be taken seriously, is feeding a whole new industry, an extremely profitable one at that, with the likes of iThenticate and iParadigms, who are reaping no doubt record profits from scientists and institutes who are all scrambling to cover their bases and purchase their software and services. I stand firmly against this commercialization of a scientific weakness, and call on the IT specialists among the academic community to make a powerful text- and figure-comparing software available freely, and publically. As long as we have a supply-demand chain that is based on exploration and profits, I see no peaceful way to resolve this issue of retractions based on (self)plagiarism.

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