You can’t make this stuff up: Plagiarism guideline paper retracted for…plagiarism

ijdermThis could be an April Fools’ joke. But it isn’t.

In what can only be described as an ironic twist, the Indian Journal of Dermatology is retracting a paper that presents guidelines on plagiarism for…wait for it…


Here’s the notice:

The article “Development of a guideline to approach plagiarism in Indian scenario” [1] is being retracted as the manuscript has been found to be copied from the first round questionnaire of the dissertation entitled ‘Developing a comprehensive guideline for overcoming and preventing plagiarism at the international level based on expert opinion with the Delphi method’ by Dr. Mehdi Mokhtari.

The Indian Journal of Dermatology has taken a hard line on plagiarism in the past, banning at least three groups of authors, by our count. Even the (plagiarized) paper itself — which has yet to be cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — states this:

Indian Journal of Dermatology maintains a strict principle of absolute zero tolerance in matters related to plagiarism.

What’s more, the author of the retracted paper, Thorakkal Shamim, has himself been a victim of plagiarism, and urged the scientific community to take a hard line on plagiarism.

Shamim’s paper in the Indian Journal of Dermatology includes definitions and strategies to prevent and detect plagiarism. Too bad they didn’t work in this case.

We’ve contacted the editor and Shamim, and will update with anything we learn.

Update, 2 p.m. Eastern, 4/3/15: We heard back from the editor of the journal, who tells us that Kamran Yazdani, an epidemiologist at the School of Public Health, Tehran University of Medical Sciences, had brought the issue to the journal’s attention. From an email Yazdani sent the journal earlier this year:

One of my MSc students, Mr. Mehdi Mokhtari, chose “Developing a comprehensive guideline for overcoming and preventing plagiarism at the international level based on expert opinion with the Delphi method” as the subject of his dissertation, about 2 to 3 years ago. To conduct the thesis, he required the consensus of international experts in the field of plagiarism whose opinions and comments were collected in three rounds via questionnaires. The first round questionnaire was therefore forwarded to several international experts in the fields of publication ethics and plagiarism, including Dr Thorakkal Shamim. The questionnaire can be found as an attachment to this email.

A while ago, I noticed that Dr Shamim published our first round questionnaire in his own name after adding an introduction and conclusion!

I decided to discuss this issue with Dr. Elizabeth Wager, the former chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), who was also another participant in the study. She also believed that this was an obvious act of plagiarism (“This does appear to be a clear case of plagiarism and I hope the journal will follow the COPE flowchart …”) and also highlighted the fact that a spelling error in the questionnaire was repeated in the article (“Deliberated uses” instead of Deliberate use), strongly suggesting that this was the source.

Now, I request that this issue be handled according to the international regulations of publication ethics and COPE standards and other relevant institutions and wish to thank you in advance for all the efforts you will initiate and undertake to uphold the principles of publication ethics.

The journal confronted Shamim, in an email that included this paragraph:

It is really ironic to be pointing out a major act of plagiarism in an article published in this journal that was supposedly written and published with the intention to develop a guideline to address the same problem! Anyway, I am also attaching your copyright form, in the hope that it will remind you of some of your responsibilities as an author.

Shamim confessed, and the article was retracted in short order.

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8 thoughts on “You can’t make this stuff up: Plagiarism guideline paper retracted for…plagiarism”

  1. This reminds of me of the situation that lead me to implement “An Assignment on Academic and Scientific Integrity” –

    Two of my students cheated on a previous reading assignment in the course, so I created this assignment to discuss the pitfalls and hazards associated with that sort of behavior. Wouldn’t you know it, the same two students cheated on this assignment as well. 🙂

  2. I think the motto “do as I say, not as I do” applies here— more pervasive in science, politics, religion, and everywhere than we would expect, but have come to expect.

    1. But only in part, in the case of my post. In fact, the description was so close to being (or in danger* of becoming) reality, that numerous people wrote to say they were fooled. That, of course, was deliberate.
      *Not all of the “Framework for Ensuring Aggregate Reproducibility” would be dangerous, the “meta-research” idea would be extremely beneficial and it’s to be hoped that it is seriously considered.

  3. On behalf of my colleagues, I should thank Dr Lahiri, the editor-in-chief of the Indian Journal of Dermatology and his colleagues, for their prompt, scientific and ethical reaction. Also we thank Dr Elizabeth Wager, the former chair of COPE, for her kind and precised help and guidance about the issue.

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