Black hole paper by teenaged prodigy retracted for duplication

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 8.39.44 AMAn astrophysics journal is retracting a paper on black holes whose first author is a teenager about to earn his PhD, after learning the paper “draws extensively” from a book chapter by the last author.

Many papers are pulled for duplication, but few get a news release from the publisher about it. In a move that we approve of, the editors of The Astrophysical Journal announced the forthcoming retraction on the American Astronomical Society (AAS) website.

The paper‘s first author Song Yoo-Geun who turns 18 this month, and is on track to earn his doctorate next year from the University of Science and Technology in South Korea. According to the news release, the paper borrows heavily from a book chapter published in 2002 by his adviser and co-author, Seok Jae Park at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

AAS is handling this very quickly. The paper was published in October, someone alerted the journal to the duplication on November 14, and the announcement of the retraction went up on the AAS website just ten days later.

The retraction note for “Axisymmetric nonstationary black hole magnetospheres: revisited” will be published in the next issue of ApJ. In the meantime, the news release explains what happened:

Song & Park (2015) draws extensively from an earlier publication by Dr. Park, “Stationary Versus Nonstationary Force-Free Black Hole Magnetospheres,” in Black Hole Astrophysics 2002: Proceedings of the Sixth APCTP Winter School (World Scientific Publishing Co., 2002). In fact, the differences are modest, mostly confined to an alternate formulation of the analytic results, and could raise the question of copyright violation. Park (2002) is not part of the peer-reviewed literature, and scientists frequently use a conference proceeding as the rough draft of a subsequent submission to a professional peer-reviewed journal. However, in this case the overlap between the 2002 book chapter and 2015 paper is exceptionally large.

The 2015 paper failed to include a citation to the 2002 publication. This had a significant effect on the peer-review process. In any case, it is incumbent on authors to cite the relevant literature, especially if that literature is sparse. In this particular case Park (2002) was the single most relevant paper, despite its lack of peer review.

The paper, which hasn’t been cited, described the charged plasma that can surround black holes as they feed on material. The editor of ApJ was Park’s advisor during his PhD in the 1980s, so recused himself from the journal’s editorial review, according to the release.

In a blog post, Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, compares the text between the two publications. Even the title of the paper hints that the authors are returning to old material, he says:

I note that the title of the article published last month has the word “Revisited” at the end…The new article has updated references and an additional conclusion. There are additional, minor changes, but the bulk of the text and equations in the 2015 article appear to duplicate the 2002 work.

We’ve contacted Park and will update this post with anything else we learn.

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One thought on “Black hole paper by teenaged prodigy retracted for duplication”

  1. A sad start to a possibly promising career. I would like to know the role that the advisor, SJ Park, played in guiding this young student in terms of publishing ethics and self-plagiarism.

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