Author of alcohol paper retracted for plagiarism defends copy-and-paste strategy

nmlogoThe authors of a paper retracted for plagiarism of a popular website have decided not to take the charges — which they don’t contest — lying down.

Here’s the notice for “Alcohol consumption and hormonal alterations related to muscle hypertrophy: a review,” which appeared in Nutrition & Metabolism, a BioMed Central title:

This article [1] has been retracted by the Editors due to extensive overlap with previously published work [2]. The Editors apologise for any inconvenience caused.

Reference 2 is to the “Alcohol” entry on Examine.com. As James Heathers, one of the people who alerted us to this retracted, tells us, Examine.com

is a very large commercial site that employs primarily scientists and MDs to summarise the available literature on various areas of nutrition.

The site had called attention to the plagiarism on Facebook in June.

Study author Antonino Bianco, “on behalf of all Co-Authors,” posted his version of events. It seems the paper was first submitted to Nutrition, which rejected it. Bianco’s defense of his team’s plagiarism is somewhat bizarre, pitting “Money vs. Science,” despite the fact that his post appeared at the site of a company he founded called Fitness A360. He seems to argue that plagiarism is fine as long as it’s of a commercial source:

A commercial web-site has won against a scientific institution (Money vs Science). From now on any commercial activity, according to such decision, could publish whatever they think is right and bias scientific information for commercial purposes.

Bianco also tries to suggest (unsuccessfully, if you ask us) that BMC’s rules allowed the authors to do what they did. Picking up when it was eventually published in Nutrition and Metabolism, he writes:

A few days after the on line publication, we receive an email from the editorial office of the journal, informing us that a commercial web-site called “Examine.com” had sent allegations of plagiarism against us to the journal (See image 2). We would like to point out that this web-site does not sell any kind of nutritional supplements. However, the guide to nutritional supplements is not free and the Examine.com frequently advertises the guide, which was consequently considered by us (and not only us) as a commercial and not a scientific web-site/platform.

During the drafting process of the manuscript a number of commercial websites were consulted to find any additional related information. After the revision of references provided by Examine.com we found inconsistencies in content and conclusion with respect to alcohol consumption and muscular hypertrophy. Hence why our manuscript reports a different discussion and a different conclusion, both being compatible with the scientific literature provided.

To emphasize our point, as researchers we always read the policies of each journal before submitting any work. Those found in the BMC group stated clearly that overlapping of open science sources (i.e. commercial websites) is usually permitted (See image 3). In addition having submitted to a journal with a high impact factor and having used the PRISMA statement (the statement consists of a 27-item checklist and a four-phase flow diagram) – (the checklist includes items deemed essential for transparent reporting of a systematic review), as a guideline in the writing of a manuscript. Therefore no gray sources of information (i.e. a non-peer reviewed, commercial web-iste) was cited in the manuscript (We reported all appropriate references, no more, no less). However, as some of the information provided by examine.com did not conflict with our findings and as they were relevant, we decided to include those into our manuscript.

Elsewhere, he writes:

We would like to point out that the editorial policies of BMC allow overlapping of open science (http://www.biomedcentral.com/about/editorialpolicies#exceptionsTable). In addition, we also asked for the copyright permission of both figures presented in the manuscript, underlining our intellectual honesty (See image 5) . Of course we are not new to publications practices and know how to avoid this type of situation but apparently being in line with the guidelines of a publishing corporation is not enough any longer.

Bianco also trots out the tired “don’t air science’s dirty laundry” argument against public post-publication peer review:

On the same day when we heard about the plagiarism allegations from Nutrition and Metabolism, we were also been made aware of the Examine.com Facebook page which published an image in which they accuse us of plagiarism. Apart from the very unprofessional behavior of the Examine group, (we also report that we were not contacted or consulted by Examine.com prior to this published accusations; it is common practice in academia, that plagiarism allegations are initially discussed and objectively judged between the parties, before being made public if found true). However instead of a professional response we found a comment of Facebook by Anssi Manninen (an editor of Nutrition and Metabolism) who stated “In my view, this is a clear case of plagiarism. I will contact our Editor-in-Chief. Sincerely, Anssi Manninen, Associate Editor, Nutrition & Metabolism”. It seems this editor had already given their judgment prior to contacting the accused (i.e. us) party. (See image 4)

Bianco then engages in what seems to be a logical fallacy, arguing that the 11,000-plus views of the paper were because

researchers seem to be interested more in the content rather than plagiarism accusations, as a retraction notice was not yet published.

Or maybe their attention was drawn to the paper by posts about the allegations. Facts are such stubborn things, aren’t they?

Update, 2 p.m. Eastern, 10/2/14: An editor at BMC has, shall we say, called bullshit on the author’s excuses:

The authors misinterpret our policy on Open Science which we intended to be taken in the context of authors’ *own* data, not data from other people or other websites:
‘Articles may be submitted to BioMed Central’s journals when data have been previously discussed or posted in such venues as blogs, wikis, social networking websites, or online electronic lab notebooks’.
Even if from our point of view this policy cannot seriously be interpreted in a way that it justifies copying text, we will amend our editorial policies to emphasize that we just refer to authors’ own data.

 

9 thoughts on “Author of alcohol paper retracted for plagiarism defends copy-and-paste strategy”

  1. Great story.

    It is very ironic how the state that: “we are not new to publications practices and know how to avoid this type of situation” while at the same time claiming that policies “found in the BMC group stated clearly that overlapping of open science sources (i.e. commercial websites) is usually permitted”.

    That policy is of course about when it is acceptable to reuse something you have written yourself, NOT about the permissability of plagiarising someone else’s work!

    In other words, their extensive knowledge just happens to not include knowing the difference between overlapping/duplicate publications and plagiarism…

    1. Yes, quite true. Of course the mentioned journal policy talks about self reuse. No journal could possibly say it is ok to use someone elses words, just because these words are found here or there The journal (third party publisher) obviously doesn’t hold any copyright of these external words, no matter where they come from.

      Copying someone elses words verbatim is always plagiarism, unless it is clearly marked as a verbatim citation (“….”). Plus, and that is usually the only “gray” area here, the verbatim citation must be limited in extent to what is necessary and useful in order to make your point. In natural science, verbatim citation is rarely necessary at all in order to make your point. You usually reword the idea/thought/conclusion of someone else and then you give a reference to that work to make clear it is not your original finding.

      The justification rant of Bianco is so funny, it really made my day! The justification just dug himself even deeper into the mud…..

  2. I was confused by this reading:
    “Those found in the BMC group stated clearly that overlapping of open science sources (i.e. commercial websites) is usually permitted (See image 3)”
    Surely this means *within your domain of authorship*. As in, if me (or coauthors) write an open notebook, a blogpost, or a forum discussion etc. then I am allowed to use this, uncited, as a source in my later published work. But the author’s reading, any commercial source could be recycled wholesale under the author’s name and this would be within publication guidelines… ?
    This opinion, which has the immediate logical consequence of allowing you to copy anything written by anyone that isn’t nailed down, surely can’t have been shared by a whole team of authors.

  3. So the overlap the journal policy talks about…doesn’t that refer to overlap between two publications by the same author? Not overlap between an article and some other source the authors had nothing to do with? I find it hard to believe a journal policy would advocate taking whole portions of text from a random website and inserting it into your article.

  4. A keyboard has two most excellent characters

    and

    Use these, simple.

    What is not clear is how much experimentation the authors performed? This could explain a lot and would cause the authors to confuse the grey with the pink elephants. In this case they can surely find find salvation, by simply re-focussing the manuscript: “Effects of alcohol consumption on perception of the origins of text” or similar and submitted to the appropriate journal

  5. Pathetic – attempts to justify the unjustifiable.

    I would have more respect for an author who just admitted plagiarism and didn’t try to defend it: “Yes, I copied this. I am a plagiarist. I did it because it was easier than writing it myself.” At least that would be honest.

  6. “as some of the information provided by examine.com did not conflict with our findings and as they were relevant, we decided to include those into our manuscript”
    That’s very generous. Bianco and co. were merely doing the original source a favour.

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