Confused yet? We are.
Here’s what we can piece together. The journal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation once had two editors, Craig Hassapakis and Robert Browne; both names appear on the same cover of a 2011-2012 issue of the journal, as librarian Jeffrey Beall noted in a blog post published last year. But since then, there seems to have been an “academic split” between the two (as defined by Beall), and each now publishes a different version of the publication named Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.
Meanwhile, the study’s first author, Omar Fadhil Al-Sheikhly from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, claims the paper was never retracted in the first place:
The paper entitled “New localities of the Kurdistan newt Neurergus microspilotus and Lake Urmia newt Neurergus crocatus (Caudata: Salamandridae) in Iraq” in which I’m the [principal] author is not retracted [and is] still active and frequently cited, please see and here (please see the date of publication).
Al-Sheikhly, who spoke at TEDxBaghdad last year, added:
Mr. Craig Hassapakis auto-marked it “retracted” in his own website only due to personal issues with the legitimate president and essential board member of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Journal Dr. Robert Brown[e]…without providing any evidence(s) of academic misconduct. Therefore, you are not able to find the justification note of why the paper has been watermarked as “retracted”!
According to Al-Sheikhly, the paper was originally published in Browne’s version of the journal, and is available here.
When asked about the retraction notice for this paper, “New localities of the Kurdistan newt Neurergus microspilotus and Lake Urmia newt Neurergus crocatus (Caudata: Salamandridae) in Iraq,” Hassapakis told Retraction Watch:
The paper was retracted in August of 2013. No official notice was issued but this is probably an [oversight] on our part. I can issue one if need be. What is the appropriate way to issue a retraction notice?
Hassapakis, who is based at Utah Valley University (according to his journal site), said the paper was retracted because
Data was stolen by Robert K. Browne (and other authors of the paper) from an Iranian colleague of mine Elnaz Najafi-Majd…
We’ve contacted Najafi-Majd, who works at Ege University in Izmir, Turkey to confirm Hassapakis’ claims. She corroborated Hassapakis’s side of the story:
I had field surveys in Iraq and an ornitholog, Omar Fadhil Al-Sheikhly from Nature Iraq accompanied me in the field. The Organization “Nature Iraq” just asked me to mention their name in published materials (thesis and papers) acknowledgment part!
To make matters worse Robert K. Browne [is] the acting editor for the paper (for which he was also an author on the paper); another major conflict of interest and violation of standard practices in scientific communities. These issues were major violations of ethics and practices within scientific groups and the paper was thus retracted by me immediately as publisher and editor of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation.
Browne has denied the allegations:
It is up to the primary author to choose secondary authors and there is no responsibility on my part regarding Elnaz Najafi-Majd’s false claim to co-authorship. In fact Elnaz’s claim appears to have no validity as she was simply an invited guest on the surveys. She contributed nothing to the method of the surveys (selection of area and sites to visit), the costs, or in the writing of the article. She was simply a guest along with her father.
…there was no [misconduct] in publishing the report; Elnaz has no substantial claim to authorship as determined by Omar in his role as primary author, Craig was privy to all stages of the articles publication, I was clearly an author and preliminary editor, and Craig had a demonstrated and clear motivation for fraud.
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is not indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
We learned of the alleged retraction of this paper via a comment on PubPeer by Klaas van Dijk, an ornithologist in Groningen, The Netherlands. For months, van Dijk has raised concerns about another of Al-Sheikhly’s papers in Zoology in the Middle East, which received an expression of concern earlier this year:
Breeding ecology of the Basra Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus griseldis, in Iraq (Aves: Passeriformes: Acrocephalidae) by Omar F. Al-Sheikhly, Iyad Nader, and Filippo Barbanera http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09397140.2013.810870
We have been informed of a question of the reliability and validity of the data reported in the above work. We note that the data described in this article have not been independently verified, and we recommend that readers take this into account when reading the paper or performing further work based on this study.
Following publication of the above work in 2013, the Editors and Publishers of Zoology in the Middle East received a number of critical comments. We offered both commentators and authors the opportunity to publish their views in the Journal, and subsequently we published a “Comment” by Porter et al., a “Response” by Al-Sheikhly et al., and finally a “Rejoinder” by Porter et al. These contributions, and the original article, are and will continue to be free-to-access, to ensure our readers are properly informed.
The 2013 study, “Breeding ecology of the Basra Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus griseldis, in Iraq (Aves: Passeriformes: Acrocephalidae),” has so far garnered two citations (one from the comment and one from Al-Sheikhly and colleagues’ response).
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