Materials science paper yanked over data pilfering

materials lettersMaterials Letters has withdrawn an article in press after the editor found out the first author, Yan Li, had taken all the data without permission.

According to the notice, the senior author told the journal that the data came from the lab Li used to work in at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, but the P.I. in Italy didn’t know about the paper.

From the notice:

Dr. Luo from the College of Bioengineering, Chongqing University, has informed the Editor in Chief Aldo Boccaccini that the data used in the article “Poly(vinylalcohol) and hyaluronic acid derived hydrogel: A novel synthesis method using thiol-yne click reaction”, Material Letters, 2014, 134: 9–12, were taken during the stay of the first author Dr. Li at the University of Rome Tor Vergata yet published without informing the leader of this laboratory. Because of this all authors agreed that the manuscript is retracted.

We’ve contacted Luo and Boccaccini, and will update if we hear anything. We could not find contact information for Li.

Hat tip Rolf Degen. 

4 thoughts on “Materials science paper yanked over data pilfering”

  1. According to the article, the 2nd author is affiliated to the lab in University of Rome Tor Vergata where the data originated. Thus, it would be reasonable to assume that the 1st author collected the data under the supervision or collaboration with the 2nd author during the stay in this lab. Otherwise the 2nd author would not have consented to his name being included in the paper. To me it appears that leader of this laboratory got pissed off after learning that he was not included as an author. According to ICMJE criteria the author should have “Substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work; or the acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data for the work”. I am not sure of the head of this laboratory fulfilled these requirements. Thus, I believe the paper should NOT have been retracted.

    1. Professor Alternative, you are free to invite the whole world into your lab, let them use your space, budget, research ideas and alternative techniques (else they wouldn’t come to your lab, would they), and then let them publish the findings on their own without asking you.

      Just don’t expect everybody else to follow your alternative ways. If someone is a guest researcher in another lab, basic academic manners require that you talk back with the host before you publish a paper on your findings – no matter whether your host will be on it or not.
      He/She might even find a mistake in your manuscript that might lead to a retraction in the future…

  2. What if they had repeated the experiments again and collected data in the new lab? Does the argument still hold, just because the results were first seen in the first lab. Maybe the PI in the old lab just sits on papers for a long time, so someone who needs publications just repeats everything in the new lab and the data is now his. It’s not very nice, but then the argument that they took data without permission and published it doesn’t hold anymore.

    They obviously should have included their old PI on the paper, but maybe this fellow knew that tenure reports don’t count papers with your PhD or postdoc PI as an author.

    1. If results were first seen in the hosts lab: clearly the host must be informed. It is about the intellectual component, not the lab work. If you extend your line of thinking: What about stealing results from another researcher (e.g., from a talk, prior to publication), repeating the experiments in your lab, and then publish them under your name… you think that would be o.k.? I don’t think so.
      This has happened, actually:

      Back to the current case: We do not know if the former host was “sitting on a paper”. Normally such issues can be resolved by discussion with former hosts.

      On the other hand, I have heard of several cases where former guest researchers have published papers, using materials from their former host’s lab – even if they added more results from their own labs later. In no case were the former hosts happy about the situation, irrespective of whether they were co-authors (unknowingly) or not, since they considered it a breach of trust.

      In my opinion, it’s a case of good academic manners to inform the former host, and he/she might then often state they need not be co-authors, if they consider their contribution minor. Even if they first want to be on the paper and you do not agree with it, that might be resolved by discussion and good arguments.

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