Book publisher: Authors plagiarized “in good faith” because they cited previous work

A publisher has retracted a chapter from a book on flow cytometry after determining the authors plagiarized some material — but noted that because the authors cited the article they lifted from, they likely acted “in good faith.”

We were tipped off to this retraction from the authors of the review article the chapter plagiarized from, who told us they were upset by the incident and doubted whether the authors had performed the experiments they described in the chapter.

More broadly, the retraction raises an important question: How can publishers retract one chapter of a book, leaving the rest intact?

First, let’s take a look at the retraction notice:

The publisher is retracting and removing [1] due to the fact that a number of excerpts in this book chapter have been copied verbatim from [2]. After a reader had alerted the book editor and the publisher about possible instances of plagiarism in [1], an internal investigation into those allegations was carried out.

Results of the investigation corroborated the reader’s allegations in the sense that parts of text were indeed similar to particular passages in [2]. However, it was also found that the authors had cited [2] several times throughout the chapter, indicating that their intention was to highlight the research presented in [2] rather than to pass it off as their own.

After consulting the COPE’s Retraction Guidelines [3] it was determined that although the authors apparently acted in good faith, the degree of overlap between [1] and [2] ultimately warrants retraction of [1].

The authors, as well as the book editor and the publisher, sincerely regret any inconvenience this might have caused to the readership.

We were alerted to this retraction by the first and last authors of reference #2 from the notice, Pratip Chattopadhyay and Mario Roederer, respectively, both based at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Chattopadhyay first discovered the overlap between his 2010 review article “The use of quantum dot nanocrystals in multicolor flow cytometry” and the 2012 book chapter in 2015, when he decided to look up something related to the topic. Instead of digging through his files to find the 2010 paper, he simply typed key words into Google. But instead of the review article, he found the 2012 chapter “Applications of Quantum Dots in Flow Cytometry.”

Chattopadhyay told us he was curious to learn more about this new group of authors he had never seen associated with the technology.

I was struck by how much writing looked like mine – I was actually really impressed with the writing.

Looking closer, he became alarmed. He said to himself:

‘Wow, that figure looks familiar. Some of these turns of phrase look really, really familiar.’

His next step: Gather objective evidence to show plagiarism had occurred.

It’s a substantial allegation to make against people…I don’t want to mess up people’s careers based on an unfounded allegation.

Chattopadhyay took pdf screen shots of his paper and the chapter, lining them up in spots of overlap, and sent the images to the book’s publisher and editor, as well as the publisher of his 2010 paper. (You can look at the comparison here — on the left is the 2012 chapter, the right is Chattopadhyay’s 2010 review.)

Yes, the 2012 chapter cited the 2010 review article by Chattopadhyay and Roederer — but didn’t cite the paper at every instance of copied material, the authors told us. For instance, the 2012 chapter lifted a figure from the 2010 paper and didn’t attribute it to that paper, Roederer told us:

They took the entire figure without permission.

In addition, Roederer told Retraction Watch that parts of the 2012 chapter say the authors performed experiments that require equipment that costs $500,000 USD, and reagents that aren’t commercially available. Chattopadhyay echoed that concern, stating that he teaches extensively on how to perform the experiments mentioned in his 2010 article, so he he knows the field and the players very well, and “it’s just very, very unlikely” that a group of authors he’d never heard of could have performed these experiments.

Ingrid Schmid at the University of California, Los Angeles, who edited the book “Flow Cytometry,” told us:

I was aware that the authors are not well known in the field of cytometry, but that per se does not automatically disqualify them from writing a solid review article or presenting their research. Moreover, laboratories are able to obtain uncommon reagents from other institutions or create their own, and [first author Dimitrios Kirmizis] and collaborators could have done so.

She added:

The chapter was well written and stated the scientific facts correctly. Unfortunately, when writing their review they took passages from the paper by Chattopadhyay et al. without paraphrasing and/or the appropriate citation of the source (although the work by Dr. Chattopadhyay is cited extensively throughout the text) and thus created the impression they did perform experimentation. The plagiarism case review committee at [publisher] Intech believed the statement of the authors that they were intent on highlighting previously published work which was supported by the citations, but found that they failed in presenting it without plagiarizing existing text.

In hindsight, I wish of course that I had inquired more thoroughly into the details of their experiments, and not assume integrity or skill in writing an appropriate review paper ; however, I did not have on-line access to the Chattopadhyay review and Intech was not employing plagiarism detection software at that time (although it is requiring it now) which would have taken care of the issue reliably and quickly.

Sasa Marcan, Library and Scholarly Communication Specialist at publisher InTech, explained why they concluded the authors had acted “in good faith:”

Yes, by an author’s admission, their intention was to highlight the original work, not take credit for it and pass it off as theirs.

Judging from a variety of investigated reports of misconduct, it would seem that it’s generally possible for an author to unwittingly plagiarize someone’s work if he or she is not sufficiently familiar with current publication ethics standards.

Marcan said the publisher invited the authors to contributed a chapter in the book, based on their work with flow cytometry that was reported in earlier publications.

We asked Marcan how the publisher handles the tricky situation of retracting a chapter from a book, where the rest of the material remains valid:

When a book chapter is retracted, it is removed from our website, and replaced with a retraction notice. Physical copies are printed on demand, which allows us to update the master file and print an updated edition of the book without the retracted chapter when we receive a new order.

We prioritize efficient handling of retractions and corrections online since our publications are predominantly read on and downloaded from our website, so no separate alerts are sent to those who purchased a physical copy.

Marcan added that most of the physical copies of the book went to contributing authors:

34 physical copies of the book have been printed since it was first published, including complimentary copies (29) for contributing authors and the editor. No copies were printed following the chapter’s retraction.

We’ve also contacted the last author of the retracted chapter, Dimitrios Chatzidimitriou at Aristotle University in Greece.

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11 thoughts on “Book publisher: Authors plagiarized “in good faith” because they cited previous work”

  1. The publisher InTech is on my list of questionable publishers. Publishers like InTech generate revenue from their authors, who are charged a fee to publish in their open-access monographs.

    Because the authors are the customers, of course they are going to declare that any act of plagiarism was done in ‘good faith.’ They want to keep the customers happy and attract more like them.

    I think that InTech is currently in the middle of a spam email campaign to solicit “chapters.” Over the past couple weeks, several researchers have forwarded me spam emails they received from this publisher.

    1. Not very successfully. This book sold 5 copies in 3 years… How discouraging for the authors who spent a lot of time writing (and, in one case, copying) their material.

  2. Here’s one of their spams that I received last year:

    “Dear Dr. [My Name],

    I hope to find you well.

    I would like to inform you that, based on your publishing history, you are invited to contribute a chapter to a new book project under the working title “[X] in Health and Disease”. This book will be published by InTech Open Access publisher, under the editorship of Dr. [Y]

    The book will be an Open Access publication made available through InTech’s reading platform and indexed in scientific databases…

    Please notice that an Article Processing Charge of 670 euro will be applied to cover the Open Access publishing process expenses.

    We hope that you will be able to join this project and I will be happy to help with any questions you might have.


    Edi Lipovic
    Publishing Process Manager”

    I was then sent two “follow up” spams in subsequent months.

  3. One of the reasons I brought this to the attention of Retraction Watch was because I am troubled by the notion that a published researcher and academic can “unwittingly plagiarize” because they are “not familiar with current publication ethics standards.” This was apparently the justification for the phrasing, in the retraction notice itself, that the “authors acted in good faith.”

    In my opinion, there are multiple examples of plagiarism in this case, which would be deemed inappropriate by any ethical standard – be it a traditional or “current” ethical standard. I’m not even sure what this means, have ethical standards for plagiarism changed recently? I suspect not.

    It’s interesting to note that when I tried to gain access to plagiarism-detection software, to provide objective evidence for my accusations, I was informed that the service I inquired to would not accept the case if I was actually making a plagiarism charge. The service was only to be used if I was the writer, and I wished to avoid accidental plagiarism.

    So this notion of accidental plagiarism is surprisingly (and frustratingly) pervasive. Perhaps I am overly sensitive to this topic, but when we buy into accidental plagiarism, I believe we “unwittingly” become apologists for what, in the end, is simply unethical behavior.

    Anyway, I’m glad the we have a forum to explore these issues.

  4. Judging from a variety of investigated reports of misconduct, it would seem that it’s generally possible for an author to unwittingly plagiarize someone’s work

    It is not very reassuring to be told that the large number of precedents for plagiarism is reason enough to normalise it.

  5. Ouch, this is supposed to be “unwittingly plagiarize”(d) ? Please check the comparison provided by Pratip Chattopadhyay. First page, second paragraph of the original reads “Were multiplexed…”. After copy-paste the space went missing.
    At first glance this is the sort of things I usually grade by ‘failed with distinction’ due to scientific misconduct. And here I even agree with Jeffrey Beall’s analysis of a low quality publisher making quick money. An interesting question arises: Will the publisher refund the authors becuase the chapter is now retracted?

  6. They seem to have lost the point of a review article. It is to consolidate the existing literature, not to rewrite another review article.

  7. I am very interested in ‘plagiarism’ issues, but there seem to be some gaps in my knowledge. I would therefore like to put 2 questions to Sasa Marcan (Library and Scholarly Communication Specialist at InTech):

    1. ”Judging from a variety of investigated reports of misconduct.”
    Could you provide references for some of those reports that reached the conclusion: “that it’s generally possible for an author to unwittingly plagiarize someone’s work?”

    2. “if he or she is not sufficiently familiar with current publication ethics standards”.
    Could you indicate the major recent changes in “publication ethics standards” that make this possible?

  8. In a paper or chapter in which another publication is quoted and cited appropriately, but with one or two phrases or sentences that are NOT quoted and cited appropriately, I would accept the “good faith” claim. But for paragraphs and pages? Not a chance.

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