An environmental journal has pulled a 2011 paper following an investigation, which revealed it contained “extensive similarities” with another paper published two years earlier by some of the same authors.
Two of the authors of the newly retracted paper — Zulfiqar Ahmad from Quaid-i-Azam University and Arshad Ashraf of the National Agricultural Research Center, both in Islamabad, Pakistan — were the sole authors of a 2008 paper about modeling groundwater flow in Indus Basin, Pakistan. The 2011 paper — posted online in 2010 — focused on the same topic, but included two additional authors, one of whom told us he was unaware of the previous paper and agrees with the journal’s decision. Ahmad, however, has defended the 2011 paper and asked that the journal remove the retraction note.
Here’s the note, published in April by Environmental Monitoring and Assessment:
This article has been retracted by the Editor-in-Chief following an investigation of a complaint received against it. A careful analysis of the co-authored article titled “Composite use of numerical groundwater flow modeling and geoinformatics techniques for monitoring Indus Basin aquifer, Pakistan” by Zulfiqar Ahmad, Arshad Ashraf, Alan Fryar and Gulraiz Akhter published in Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, February 2011, Volume 173, Issue 1–4, pp 447–457 shows extensive similarities with an article published by Arshad Ashraf and Zulfiqar Ahmad in 2008 titled “Regional groundwater flow modelling of Upper Chaj Doab of Indus Basin, Pakistan using finite element model (Feflow) and geoinformatics” in Geophysical Journal International, Volume 173, pp 17–24.
Given the duplication of content described above, the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment article in question is being retracted.
Alan Fryar, based at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, is one of two additional authors on the retracted paper not involved with the 2008 article. He told us he didn’t realize the paper had a similar counterpart:
I did not realize at the time the EM&A paper was published that a similar version, on which I was not a co-author, had been published previously in Geophysical Journal International. I agree with the journal’s decision. I would not have agreed to be a co-author of the retracted paper had I realized the duplication of content.
However, Muhammad Gulraiz Akhter at Quaid-i-Azam University, the other author not involved with the 2008 article, defended the 2011 paper. He said that though the two papers cover similar analytical capabilities of geoinformatics, the second produced “totally new results,” and this must be given due consideration:
I think that no plagiarism was conducted by us. In fact, in order to highlight the strong functional and modeling capabilities of the geoinformatics, the main analytical and mapping results presented in the paper were generated later on from the integrated modeling study. [The] paper that [was] published in 2008 by my coauthors contains model calibration and few preliminary results that provided the foundation of [the] 2011 paper. Certainly by using the same calibration without editing it, the new research by using another technique developed and produced the results. It is important to note that in [the] 2011 paper when we used the previously basic calibration (2008 paper), we also cited the reference that clearly indicated that we are using the calibration results of [the] 2008 paper. We did not hide anything by citing the paper.
We contacted Ahmad, who forwarded us a statement that reads like a letter to the editor, in which he defends the originality of the 2011 paper:
The previous paper of 2008 contains model calibration and few preliminary results that provided the base for 2011 paper. Certainly the model calibration is common in both the papers (that has created the similarity issue) but it had formed base for generating newer simulation results.
I think such a matter should be looked in perspective of publishing versatile simulation results from a same modeling source. As there is a substantial unpublished modeling data and results still available which based on the same calibration part for elaboration, your timely favor and encouragement for disseminating those will be highly appreciated.
Ahmad also asked that the journal remove the retraction note, or include his perspective:
Hopefully, you would consider my viewpoint and try to eliminate the retraction note that has been constantly appearing here and there by the research gate. Consequently, if it is not possible to remove the note then hopefully my viewpoint will also be added up for better apprehension and understanding for the readers.
The retracted paper has been cited three times. The 2008 paper has been cited nine times.
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