In April 2014, we wrote about the case of a former hydrologist at the University of Kansas (KU), Marios Sophocleous, who had plagiarized in at least seven studies, two of which were retracted by the journal Ground Water.
At the time, we mentioned two other articles, in the Hydrogeology Journal, that appeared destined for retraction — not least because KU requested that the journal yank them. But in a rather surprising move, the journal is declining to do so, and another publication, the Journal of Hydrology, is taking the same approach.
Here’s the notice from Hydrogeology Journal editor Clifford Voss:
In late February 2013, the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS), a research and service division of the University of Kansas (KU), found that a number of papers written by a then staff member, Dr. Marios Sophocleous (retired from KGS in June 2013), appeared to have been plagiarized from earlier work. KU explained to Hydrogeology Journal that, following multi-stage investigations, which included opportunities for Dr. Sophocleous to explain his actions, KU concluded that Dr. Sophocleous had committed scholarly misconduct. KU then publicly censured him (University of Kansas 2013).
Two of the seven articles cited in the censure statement appeared in Hydrogeology Journal (HJ) and KU has requested of publisher Springer and the HJ executive editor (EE) that both be retracted. KU provided a detailed analysis of each paper, indicating which passages were plagiarized and the source of the plagiarized material; these analyses are available from KGS upon request.
The two articles are:
- Sophocleous M (2002) Interactions between groundwater and surface water: the state of the science, Hydrogeology Journal, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 52–67.http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10040-001-0170-8
- Sophocleous M (2010) Review: groundwater management practices, challenges, and innovations in the High Plains aquifer, USA – lessons and recommended actions, Hydrogeology Journal, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 559–575.http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10040-009-0540-1
The EE and publisher, Springer, did independent reviews of the papers and agree with KU that a large portion of the text was copied verbatim from previous articles written by other authors. The copied passages all lacked quotation marks to indicate that they were directly quoted from previous works.
The EE’s assessment is as follows. In most cases, the reference from which the material was copied verbatim is given close by in the text by Sophocleous. Thus, Sophocleous did not claim that the copied ideas were his own; however, Sophocleous neglected to indicate that he had not composed these passages by including quotation marks around copied text. It is clear that review articles normally consist of information compiled from previous works, but text copied verbatim must be enclosed in quotation marks. Thus, the copied unquoted text must be strictly considered as plagiarism, but Sophocleous’ referencing of most copied passages indicates that he was giving credit to the previous authors from which he copied, and not hiding the fact that the material was not his own. In a positive view, his error might be considered to be a technical one, in which he neglected to use quotation marks; however, the EE and Springer agree with KU that this style of presenting information from previous works, even in review articles, is unacceptable.
KU has stated that it views these papers as compilations of plagiarized material and has requested they be withdrawn to demonstrate to the hydrological community that such practices cannot be tolerated. One response to the KU retraction request that was considered by the EE was to republish the two articles with all necessary quotation marks in place; however, this would appear peculiar as a large portion of the text in each article would be within quotes. This makes it clear that reviewers would have rejected a manuscript composed of largely quoted material.
In deciding how to respond to the retraction request, the EE has also considered the value of these two articles to the scientific readership. Both articles are reviews of their subject matter, not presentations of new scientific results. These HJ articles are highly cited and indeed, one is among the most highly cited of all time in HJ. Thus, both articles were and are still of clear value to the scientific community. Therefore, the EE has concluded that retraction would be a disservice to the community.
KU disagrees with the conclusion of the EE and continues to assert that both papers should be retracted. However, in the interest of bringing the matter to a close, KU has agreed to accept publication of this Editor’s Message in place of retraction, given that a link to this is attached to both papers in the Springer online archives.
And here’s the notice from Corrado Corradini, who edits the Journal of Hydrology:
On January 6, 2014 the University of Kansas contacted the editorial team of Journal of Hydrology about the following situation:
In late February 2013, the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS), a research and service division of the University of Kansas, found that a number of articles written by a then staff member, Dr. Marios Sophocleous (retired from the KGS in June 2013), appeared to be influenced by plagiarism. On December 11, 2013, after an analysis of the Investigating Committee, the University of Kansas concluded that Dr. Sophocleous had committed scholarly misconduct relating to plagiarism and self-plagiarism and it publicly censured him at:news.ku.edu/2013/12/11/public-
In the communication to the Journal of Hydrology on January 6, 2014 the KGS specified that according to the committee the following articles contained substantial plagiarized passages:
- (1) Sophocleous, M.A., 2012. The evolution of groundwater management paradigms in Kansas and possible new steps towards water sustainability. Journal of Hydrology, 414–415, 550–559.
- (2) Sophocleous, M.A., 2000. From safe yield to sustainable development of water resources the Kansas experience. Journal of Hydrology, 235(1–2), 27–43.
As an Editor in Chief of Journal of Hydrology for the subsurface water area, I have examined these two papers together with all the references the Committee esteems have been plagiarized.
Many sentences of the two manuscripts are really paraphrased or reproduced from papers earlier published and their identification by the Committee of the University of Kansas is substantially accurate.
The paper by Sophocleous (2000) is a critical overview which uses the Kansas experience as a support. The paper by Sophocleous (2012) is neither a technical nor review paper but comprises an historical description of acts and procedures enacted by Institutions of the Kansas State. To some extent, these typologies of works need to include paraphrasing or reproduce text from previous publications, even though the above mentioned papers contain an excess of these kind of quotes to former studies. All the source papers are substantially cited in the vicinity of the parts paraphrased or reported in the same form, however not placed between quotation marks. In addition, these parts of text are rearranged in a different framework and under different contexts for different audiences. The relatively high number of citations highlights the important role of these two papers.
I realized that at the time of the submissions, the team of Journal of Hydrology was unable to notice the problems linked with the two papers. In fact, most source papers quoted are technical reports or local publications, practically inaccessible to the editors who handled the review processes as well as to the reviewers. Most source papers are currently not identifiable by the plagiarism detection software because they are absent from the widely used database systems.
I would also like to clarify, the Journal of Hydrology was informed of the allegations of plagiarism and self-plagiarism only 2 and 14 years after the publication of Sophocleous (2000) and Sophocleous (2012), respectively.
An overall analysis of the aforementioned elements leads me to exclude the retraction of the two papers and to write this Editorial Note summarizing the critical elements discussed and my conclusions.
For the sake of completeness the main source papers involved are given below.
A substantial part of the reproduced material in Sophocleous (2012) derives from:
- – Sophocleous, M.A., 2010. Review: groundwater management practices, challenges, and innovations in the high plains aquifer, USA: lessons and recommended actions. Hydrogeol. J. 18 (3), 559–575;
- – Sophocleous, M.A., 2011. Groundwater legal framework and management practices in the high plains aquifer, USA. In: Findikakis, A.N., Sato, K. (Eds.), Groundwater Management Practices, IAHR Monograph Series. CRC Press, pp. 325–366; and significant contributions are also derived from:
- – Aiken, J.D., 1980. Nebraska Ground Water Law and Administration. Faculty Publications: Agricultural Economics. Paper 30;
- – Golden, B.B., Peterson, J.M., 2006. Evaluation of Water Conservation from More Efficient Irrigation Systems. Staff Paper No. 06-03, Department of Agricultural Economics, Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, 70p. <http://www.agmanager.info/
policy/water/Peterson-K_State_ report_final.pdf> (accessed 17.07.11);
- – Peck, J.C., 2006. Groundwater management in Kansas: a brief history and assessment. Kansas J. Law Public Policy 25 (3), 505–516;
- – Peck J.C., 2007, Groundwater management in the high plains aquifer. In: Mark Giardano, Karen G. Villholth (Eds.), The Agricultural Groundwater Revolution. Opportunities and Threats to development. pp. 296–319;
- – Rolfs, L.E., 2006. Comparing and contrasting the roles of the Division of Water Resources and the Groundwater Management Districts in groundwater management and regulation. Kansas J. Law Public Policy 25 (3), 441–465.
The main part of the reproduced sentences in Sophocleous (2000) is taken from:
- – Sophocleous, M.A., 1998. On the elusive concept of safe yield and the response of interconnected stream-aquifer systems to development. In: Sophocleous, M.A. (Ed.), Perspectives on Sustainable Development of Water Resources in Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey, Bulletin, 239, pp. 6–85; but a significant part derives also from:
- – Balleau, W.P., 1988. Water approximation and transfer in a general hydrogeologic system. Natural Resources Journal 29 (2), 269–291;
- – Bredehoeft, J.D., Papadopulos, S.S., Cooper Jr., H.H., 1982. Groundwater: The Water Budget Myth. In: Scientific Basis of Water Resource Management. National Academy Press, Studies in Geophysics, pp. 51–57;
- – Sophocleous, M.A., Buddemeier, R.W., Buchanan, R.C., 1998. Evolving sustainability concepts: Modern developments and the Kansas Experience. In: Sophocleous, M.A. (Ed.), Perspectives on Sustainable Development of Water Resources in Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey, Bulletin 239, pp. 86–95;
- – Sophocleous, M.A., 2000. The origin and evolution of safe yield policies in the Kansas Groundwater Management Districts. Natural Resources Research 9 (2), 99–110.
Lastly, I would like to point out that the University of Kansas, despite having arrived to a different conclusion than my own, has agreed to accept that an Editorial Note is published, given that a link to this note is attached to both articles in the Elsevier online archives. This note will hopefully bring the matter at hand to a close.
The editorial, we should note, is behind a paywall.
Now, we’re all for editors having leeway, but this decision, to put it mildly, is a very slippery slope. On the one hand, we agree that retraction is a blunt instrument that at times is the least best option. On the other, neglecting to retract because an article is “of clear value to the scientific community” is pretty porous rock: Science has standards, some of which should be inviolate.
Voss seems to agree. He told us:
Fabrication of data or results is never acceptable and should never be allowed. Had fabrication been the case regarding Sophocleus, we would have retracted.
In the Sophocleus case, there was a lack of quotation marks, but all quoted material was carefully referenced by the author. The public plagiarism discussion lead by Univ of Kansas will be enough to make the point to the scientific community that excessive quoting and lack of quotation marks is not a professional way to write articles. Sophocleus did great work in writing those papers and these still provide valuable information and compilations for hydrologists – however, his style of composition was lacking.