Plagiarism was “not an intentional act,” says first author of retracted TB paper

logoA 2013 review article about tuberculosis is being retracted for “unacknowledged re-use of significant portions of text” from another article, which the first author said wasn’t intentional.

Sayantan Ray, based at Medical College and Hospital, Kolkata in India, told us that “most of the unchanged text” is present in sections written by junior co-authors. Since there doesn’t appear to be any attempt to cover it up, he argued anyone responsible for the plagiarism must not have realized it was wrong:

You can appreciate that this type of obvious similarity can only happen when the concerned person [does] not have any idea about [the] plagiarism issue.

According to the notice, published by Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, most of the re-used text appears to have come from a 2012 paper in the Indian Journal of Medical Research. Here’s more from the notice:

The editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Research has brought to our attention the unacknowledged re-use of significant portions of text in the above article. The source of much of the text appears to be from:

Sharma SK, Mohan A, Sharma A. Challenges in the diagnosis and treatment of miliary tuberculosis. Indian J Med Res. 135, May 2012, pp 703–730.

Dr Ray comments thus:

“Regarding the similarities found we want to clarify that this apparent plagiarism is not an intentional act and likely to be factual error. In any way, we do not want to undermine scientific pursuit or vitiate the investigational spirit of hard work and creativity. Please be informed that the different portions of the review were written by different co-authors and most of them were postgraduate students at that time. It seems that they have taken materials/ideas from previously published source unaware of the issues of plagiarism.”

The paper, “Diagnosis and management of miliary tuberculosis: current state and future perspectives,” discussed the epidemiological and clinical aspects of miliary tuberculosis

When asked for more details on the retraction, including how his co-authors were “unaware of the issues of plagiarism,” Ray said:

Although anticipated but didn’t receive any intimation from the journal/publisher regarding retraction of our article. Indeed, we are very much disappointed by this decision. However, when Dovepress contacted me a month back regarding this issue, I replied that if this article is anyway going to hamper the prominent scholarly repute of the Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, they can retract it from the journal.

In my response to Dovepress, it was mentioned that we did not have any plagiarism checking software like ithenticate at our institution during writing of this manuscript in 2012. Therefore, we could not check the manuscript for possible plagiarism before submission.

Because there is no attempt to modify the plagiarized text, Ray argued, it had to have been unintentional:

Contributors of this article had taken portions unchanged from the IJMR article published in 2012. You can appreciate that this type of obvious similarity can only happen when the concerned person do not have any idea about plagiarism issue.The article by Sharma et al. was published when we were preparing the manuscript. Since close similarity was there between the topics, possibly contributors of our article were much influenced and tempted to take ideas from it. Unfortunately, despite citing references against those portions taken from the IJMR article, we failed to duly acknowledge the original source.

Lastly, I want to emphasize that we intended to produce a good review article on that very important topic. We worked hard to make it informative and useful for the readers across the discipline.This review received many citations over last 2 yrs as well. However, in order not to vitiate the investigational spirit of hard work and creativity, I think the decision of retraction from Journal of Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management is justified.

The article has been cited six times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Ray said that most of the text that was directly copied from the 2012 paper was contributed by junior co-authors:

My job was to provide a concept and design for the review along with literature search. Of course I wrote few sections of this article as well. Apart from the abstract the sections on treatment, Indian perspective and conclusions were written by me.
You will see that in the sections on pathogenesis, clinical presentation and diagnosis, most of the unchanged text from the IJMR article are present. Actually, those sections were written by our junior co-authors (I do not want to put their names since it was a joint responsibility) who were postgraduate trainee at that time. We should have been more cautious regarding checking those contents but failed to detect the unchanged copied portions.

IJMR’s editor-in-chief Anju Sharma told us:

We came to know about this duplication when the authors of this review article published in the IJMR complained to us. We immediately informed the editor of Ther Clin Risk Mngmt.

When contacted for more details, the editor-in-chief of Therapeutics & Clinical Risk Management, Garry Walsh, directed questions to Tim Hill of Dove Medical Press, the journal’s publisher. 

Hill said that Ray responded with an “an outright admission.” He also said that “submissions require that all authors agree that what they have submitted to us for consideration is unique and unpublished elsewhere.” He added that the article was published before the journal started using iThenticate to check for plagiarism, “and also conduct a number of other checks prior to papers going to first peer-review.”

We’ve also reached out to the corresponding author of the 2012 paper, Surendra Sharma; we’ll update if we hear back.

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8 thoughts on “Plagiarism was “not an intentional act,” says first author of retracted TB paper”

    1. The order of authors can be quite a contentious issue! It can be based on a whole range of considerations, but ultimately comes down to an agreement between the authors. In my experience, it’s common for different authors to write different sections of the paper. The order doesn’t necessarily reflect who wrote the bulk of the paper.

      Here are some examples of how author order was determined from my own publication list: the most senior author is listed last (to denote seniority), alphabetical order by surname, first author is primary data collector or study designer, alternating author order where there are multiple papers from the same project. I’ve never flipped a coin or rolled a dice, but I’m sure others have!

  1. Well, if the students who plagiarized did so “unaware of the issues of plagiarism”, then the senior author cannot hide behind “joint responsibility”.

    Either the students were aware and consequently jointly responsible for the plagiarism, or they were never informed about the concept of plagiarism, in which case the senior author must take full responsibility. You cannot have it both ways.

    1. The COPE guidelines (and journal policies) seem to say that all authors are responsible. The supervisor / student relationship isn’t specifically mentioned in the COPE guidelines (that I can see). Universities may have policies that deal with the supervisor / student relationship though.

  2. Hi.

    Have just looked at this, so I may be missing details (apologies in advance) but I’m writing to ask about a discrepancy: on PMC, this article shows up as “corrected” while the dovepress website says retracted. Does this sort of thing happen frequently? Haven’t checked other indexes either.

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