Journal retracting at least nine articles by education researcher

JAASEPA investigation in Singapore has failed to turn up primary data that formed the basis for 11 papers from one author about special education.

In addition, a forensic investigation at Noel Chia’s institution — the National Institute of Education in Singapore, part of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) — suggested that some signatures providing parental consent might not be authentic. The investigation was also unable to authenticate the Malaysia-based organization Chia said collected the data on his behalf.

Nine of the papers appear in the Journal of the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (JAASEP), which has declared it plans to retract every article Chia has ever published with them (we’ve counted an additional nine papers).

Much of the information we know about the case stems from the unusually detailed — 3,000 word — retraction notice from JAASEP:

The following papers have been published in different issues of JAASEP between 2009 and 2013. Following an investigation by Nanyang Technological University, primary data are no longer available to be authenticated and we have been informed that there are serious concerns about the ethical environment in which the data were collected.

The authors (Noel KH Chia, Dorothy LF Wong, Angie GT Ng, Meng Ee Wong, Chiew Peng Kho, Stacey SK Tan, and Lay Hwee Wee) wish to withdraw the papers below published in JAASEP in order to protect the integrity of the research record. They apologize for any inconvenience caused, especially to the investigators, who have used these papers (Please note the authors have been unable to contact the first/lead author Pauline TC Poh of Paper #6 and the co-author Esther Yap of Paper #6 with regard to these retractions.)

The notice lists these nine papers (we’ve included links where they are available):

The journal is not indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

The retraction notice reprints an NTU statement from April:

In accordance with its policy of research integrity, NTU conducted an in-depth investigation following allegations of research malpractice. This concerned research in the area of children with special educational needs carried out by researchers at the NTU National Institute of Education.

Because of the non-availability of primary data we are unable to authenticate the data. Consequently, the University considers that coupled with doubts about the ethical approvals for the collection of the data, and in order to protect the integrity of its research record, the papers based on those data need to be retracted. Associate Professor Noel Chia and his co-authors have requested for the following papers to be retracted.

The notice from the school lists the nine JAASEP papers, along with two more from other journals:

A spokesperson for IOSR told us:

We have no such request / complaint of withdrawing this paper.

The other paper has been retracted — an email from the Asian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities said:

The above paper was already deleted from website. The title is also deleted now.

According to the notice, the journal began questioning Chia’s work after it was contacted by Helmy Faber, an educational therapist in Singapore, with questions about a dataset used in the papers. The journal forwarded her questions to Chia, who said he could not answer them, because he did not collect the primary data — an organization did — and because a confidentiality clause protected the identities of the participants.

Faber told us:

I am a Dutch Developmental Psychologist residing in Singapore and was conducting research for my short guide book on Dyscalculia in Jan- Feb 2014, when I read Noel Chia Kok Hwee’s papers related to this topic. I called him once and we subsequently exchanged emails whereby he provided very unsatisfactory answers to my questions related to some of his publications.

As the notice writes:

Dr. Chia reported to us that he tried to contact the key individuals from the organization who supplied him the data, to liaise with and explain to Ms. Faber regarding her questions about the primary data, but to no avail. He also checked up and found out that the organization had closed and its website was no longer accessible.

According to Dr. Chia, he informed Ms. Faber of his lack of success to contact the organization and its key individuals and he stated that she appeared not to believe him. However, he was able to provide evidence (e.g., email correspondence and a letter of appointment by the organization of him as their research consultant) of the existence of the organization and the individuals he corresponded with to the University Research Integrity Committee at his university, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The journal then reached out to NTU Research Integrity Officer Tony Mayer, who told the journal the questions about the paper were “academic,” and Faber had submitted no evidence of misconduct.

But then, in April of this year, the journal received a request from Chia that his papers be retracted. The journal reached out to Mayer again; the notice includes his response, in italics:

Since we last corresponded the complainant produced new information which we have been investigating. In addition, other information was presented again which we have investigated and hence our change of stance.

The data for these studies was collected prior to A/Prof Chia joining NIE/NTU. It had been provided by an organisation called PPC/LDC from Kuala Lumpur. A/P Chia said that all data had been returned to LDC and had not been retained by him. Although the data collection was before he joined us – the analysis and writing had been carried out at NIE.

The complainant has said that the PPC/LDC and its intermediary – a Ms Esther Yap – do not exist and so the data must have been fabricated as ere this organisation and this person. We have sworn Statutory Declarations of people who have met Esther Yap so that argument falls. However, we cannot trace the PPC/LDC in Malaysia.

In late 2015, some sample data sheets of child assessments carried out by PPC/LDC were presented to us by A/P Chia which had not been returned to PPC/LDC. We subjected this material to forensic examination and it appears that there may be problems over the signatures of the parental consents.

Because we cannot authenticate the data and because of our concerns about the ethical conditions in which the assessments have been conducted the University feels that we need to protect the integrity of the academic record and papers based on data from PPC/LDC in your and other journals should now be retracted. A/P Chia has agreed and has the agreement of those co-authors who he has been able to contact.

The journal concluded that they should take matters into their own hands next time:

Based on this experience, Ms. Faber’s work has made us realize that JAASEP needs its own independent review committee if a situation like this arises again.  We hope it never does but we need to be prepared.

We asked Mayer if practices at NTU would change, based on what’s been learned from this investigation. He said:

NTU has a robust policy and procedures. This is a unique case and raises the question as to whether an academic institution has the tools or expertise to conduct a police-type investigation as distinct from normal academic forensic tools to detect for example photoshop imagery falsifications.

The journal notes that they are pulling all articles by Chia:

Based on the information presented, JAASEP has made the professional decision to retract all articles submitted by Dr. Noel Chia, not just the ones requested for retraction.  Unfortunately, because of the uncertainty surrounding the prior research done that warranted the aforementioned retractions, JAASEP has made the professional decision to retract all of Dr. Chia’s articles published in JAASEP in order to protect the integrity of our journal.

The journal has published nine other papers by Chia. We’ve asked them if and when formal notices will appear for those papers.

According to The Straits Times, Chia resigned in April from the National Institute of Education; we have been unable to find current contact information for him. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn.

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