Oops: Elsevier journal publishes paper citing paper it promised to retract two months ago

elsevierJournal publishers can be agonizingly slow when it comes to officially retracting a paper.

Here’s a prime example of the consequences of that bureaucratic foot-dragging: Ten months after being told that Fazlurrahman Khan had fabricated his data, and two months after announcing two of Khan’s papers would be retracted from two of its journals, Elsevier still has not retracted either paper.

Worse, at least one of the papers, “Degradation of 2,4-dinitroanisole (DNAN) by metabolic cooperative activity of Pseudomonas sp. strain FK357 and Rhodococcus imtechensis strain RKJ300,” in the journal Chemosphere, has been cited since the announcement was made. In fact, the paper was published in Journal of Hazardous Materials, the Elsevier journal that is dragging its feet retracting another of Khan’s papers, “Aerobic degradation of 4-nitroaniline (4-NA) via novel degradation intermediates by Rhodococcus sp. strain FK48.”

Jim Spain, in whose lab Khan worked at Georgia Tech, reached out to us to express his concerns with this timeline:

Retraction Watch indicated that a substantial number of papers are being retracted. It looks like the PLoS papers have been retracted but some of the others have not- in spite of the retraction requests from the corresponding author that seem to have been submitted between January and June of 2014. The authors seem to have been clear that the data were fabricated and I can’t imagine why the journals would leave the papers in the literature for months while they are being cited and misleading the readers.

Spain also provided us with some insider knowledge about where Khan’s ideas came from: His own lab.

Khan worked in my lab at Georgia Institute of Technology for several months early in 2012 until I strongly suspected he was fabricating data. He went back to India, where he copied ongoing projects from my lab for several of his fabricated papers. One was a chapter of my graduate student’s thesis, one was a project he worked on here, and a third (m-Tyrosine paper in PLOS ONE) was based on my proposals/annual reports/poster and lab seminars he saw while he was here. He did not fabricate the ideas, the overall results or the conclusions–he got them from my lab. He only fabricated the data. He signed a non-disclosure agreement when he came here.

Since Khan resigned from IMTECH, the institution in Chandigarh, India, where he was working when the retractions were made public, we haven’t been able to track him down. We’ve reached out to both a frequent co-author and the director of IMTECH looking for more information, as well as a way to reach Khan for comment.

We’ve also contacted Elsevier, the author of the recently published paper in Journal of Hazardous Materials, and the editors of Chemosphere and Journal of Hazardous Materials, and will update with any news.

Update, 10 a.m. Eastern, 7/23/16: One of Khan’s co-authors, Swaranjit Singh, has been dismissed from Imtech.

8 thoughts on “Oops: Elsevier journal publishes paper citing paper it promised to retract two months ago”

  1. I believe the solution is quite simple, and who holds responsibility is more than clear. Elsevier, please issue an immediate Erratum, with the following wording (non-lawyer doctored): “The publisher, Elsevier, wishes to indicate that reference X refers to a now retracted paper from journal Y. This was included because of [reason Z]. Elsevier wishes to apologize to the authors, to the readership of this journal, and to the scientific community for its error.” Surely, this could be the most neutral type of “erratum” notice possible? Surely, COPE would approve of such wording that assigns correct responsibility to the correct entity?

    1. “The publisher, Elsevier, wishes to indicate that reference X refers to a now retracted paper from journal Y….”

      Mutatis mutandis this item, I suppose. I’m not seeing a history, but Das et al. (2008) and Dudley et al. (2009) had been retracted well before press time. It hardly sinks the review, but all the same.

  2. In such cases it seems that the publishers should be held accountable for misleading and deceptive conduct/advertising, and fined, say $1,000 per journal (punitive damages are a settled principle of common law in the USA) or up to $ 10,000,000 in Australia.

    Legal action is the only language that publishers understand.

    1. These are, basically, mutually exclusive categories. U.S. government agencies, which levy fines, cannot collect punitive damages per se.

  3. Now, the main issue is we are hearing news from only one side, but I believe we must know it from Dr. Cameotra’s point of view as there is not any kind of news at his end.

  4. There was a lot of negative publicity in July 2014 in many many newspapers of CSIR, India. Why the comments of Dr. Jim Spain of Georgia Tech are not publicized about Fazlurrahman Khan, first author who had fabricated the data by the same set of officials/people/websites?

  5. I find that four papers by Khan et al have been retracted: three in PloS One and the fourth in Chemosphere. Quoting The Hindu, Chennai, it has been said that three more papers are under retraction. What is the latest?

  6. I wish to ask Elsevier and Thomson Reuters to please come forward to answer publically to the following questions, based on two e-mails (one referring to me as “Dear author”, which I am clearly not) which I received in October and November, 2014. These mails affect me because somehow my papers are listed in them. These answers might also shed some light about the issue of fake reviewers on online submission systems.

    1) Can intermediate brokerage services like this get papers listed more easily on Scopus or WoS, for a fee?
    2) Conversely, do those who cannot pay, have to wait longer for their papers to get listed?
    3) Can this business model, which claims to handle all communications, be one source of the problems associated with online submission systems [1]? More specifically, are individuals who work for such intermediate companies allowed to set up fake accounts and handle all submissions for their paying clients? If so, how is this permissible, or ethical? In such cases, so they use their own names, is an alias used, or do the authors permit a “ghost” entity from using their professional names and identities?
    4) Why does this service claim to guarantee acceptance in any journal of choice, using the impact factor as a trading point? “The next day, all the magazines give us the answer.” How does this agency guarantee acceptance in a Scopus-listed or WoS-listed journal?
    5) Does this company have inside contacts at Elsevier and Thomson Reuters that may be giving their clients an unfair advantage over other scientists?
    6) Why do these services guarantee simultaneous submission to multiple (as many as 10 journals) for a fee? This is extremely unethical for any scientist to make a double submission, so why is it ethical for an exorbitant fee?
    7) Given the fact that Elsevier is clearly aware of these services and businesses (see mail by Caroline Timmins, Elsevier Customer Service), would it be fair to request them to publically address this issue at Retraction Watch?

    [1] http://retractionwatch.com/2014/11/26/the-peer-review-scam-how-authors-are-reviewing-their-own-papers/

    I should note that the last time I asked questions from Thomson Reuters publically [2], not a single response was provided, even though the queries were directed, among other contacts, straight to the Manager of JCR. Given the lack of transparency displayed by that corporation, I am not expecting miracles here, either.

    [2] Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva (2013) The Thomson Reuters Impact Factor: Critical Questions that Scientists Should be Asking. Asian and Australasian Journal of lant Science and Biotechnlogy 7(special issue 1), 81-83
    http://www.globalsciencebooks.info/JournalsSup/images/2013/AAJPSB_7(SI1)/AAJPSB_7(SI1)81-83o.pdf

    First, the text from their website obtained through translate.google.com.:
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    On Monday, November 10, 2014 7:40 AM, “science@philosophypublisher.com” wrote:

    1. TEIXEIRA DA SILVA J.A. THE APPLICATION OF BIOTECHNOLOGY TO ORCHIDS // CRITICAL REVIEWS IN PLANT SCIENCES Издательство: CRC PressISSN: 0735-2689. – 2013. – №2. – С. 69-139

    Уважаемый автор.
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    Полную информацию по публикациям и все цены Вы можете узнать у нас на сайте или позвонив (написав) нам.
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    Вы получили это письмо, потому что предоставили журналу «CRITICAL REVIEWS IN PLANT SCIENCES Издательство: CRC PressISSN: 0735-2689» свой e-mail для информирования о текущем состоянии Вашей публикации (публикаций). Дата 11-04-2013 г.
    У Вас есть возможность навсегда отписаться от рассылки (информирования), для этого Вам необходимо перейти по ссылке: Отписаться от рассылки

    On Friday, October 3, 2014 9:55 PM, “publication@journal-global.com” wrote:
    1. TEIXEIRA DA SILVA J.A. CHRYSANTHEMUM BIOTECHNOLOGY: QUO VADIS? // CRITICAL REVIEWS IN PLANT SCIENCES Издательство: CRC PressISSN: 0735-2689. – 2013. – №1. – С. 21-52

    Уважаемый автор.
    Вы публиковали свою научную статью через один из журналов, который является нашим партнером.
    Мы будем 1 раз в неделю информировать Вас о всех изменениях и новостях в направлении публикации научных статей в России, Украине, Scopus, Web of science (Thomson Reuters) и др.

    Scopus не остановил индексирование статей авторов из России.
    Официальный ответ:
    Reference: 140815-002059
    Response Via Email (Caroline Timmins)
    18/08/2014 08.14 AM
    Dear Daria
    Thank you for your update,
    I can confirm that articles / journals published in scopus are not affected by the sanctions in Russia.
    If there is anything else I can help with please let me know.
    Kind Regards
    Caroline Timmins
    Elsevier Customer Service
    ©2014, Elsevier BV. All rights reserved.
    [—001:002977:36399—]

    Также мы предлагаем помощь по публикации статей авторов из России и стран СНГ. Текущие предложения:
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    5. Срочная публикация статьи в 2014 году в журнале из базы Scopus (Скопус), Web of science (Thomson Reuters). 1000 дол.
    6. Срочная и сверх срочная публикация статьи в срок 14-30 дней в России или Украине.
    * Подать статью для публикации за рубежом нужно с 25 сентября по 10 октября 2014 г.! (статья уже должна быть на английском языке). Обратите вниман! ие, что оформление статьи занимает 3-7 дней, рецензирование статьи составит около 1 месяц.
    ** Учитывайте, что перевод Вашей статьи на английский язык занимает до 7 дней.
    *** Наш редактор оформляет статью по требованиям журнала; наш кандидат наук вносит все правки в статью и согласовывает с автором статьи.

    Полную информацию по публикациям и все цены Вы можете узнать у нас на сайте или позвонив (написав) нам.
    Мы являемся экспертами в вопросах публикации научных статей.
    Если у Вас есть вопросы, мы всегда рады ответить на них.

    Спасибо за то, что выбрали нас.

    С уважением, Алена
    Консультант Международной редакции
    http://journal-global.com/
    Тел.: +380 67 3055900
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    +380 50 2440990
    Skype: olena_romanova
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    Вы получили это письмо, потому что предоставили журналу «CRITICAL REVIEWS IN PLANT SCIENCES Издательство: CRC PressISSN: 0735-2689» свой e-mail для информирования о текущем состоянии Вашей публикации (публикаций). Дата 14-02-2013 г.
    У Вас есть возможность навсегда отписаться от рассылки (информирования), для этого Вам необходимо перейти по ссылке: Отписаться от рассылки

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