Researchers submit two similar papers 8 days apart; one is retracted

After a research group submitted two similar papers only days apart to different journals, one journal has retracted the paper — and told the other it should do the same.

The papers, by a group of authors based in Romania, describe a new polymer to stop the formation of biofilms. After a reader flagged the papers — which were submitted within eight days of each other in September, 2015 — as being similar, a journal has retracted one, and recommended the other journal retract the second. Although the second journal told us it planned to flag the paper with a notice alerting readers to the duplication, the notice has not yet appeared online.

The journal that issued the retraction — the International Journal of Polymer Analysis and Characterization (IJPAC) — called it a “a clear case of self-plagiarism,” according to the notice:

Both papers were carefully reviewed by three internationally renowned experts and Editorial Board Members, and it has been determined that the authors duplicated most of the textual sections in the two papers in addition to showing essentially the same experiments, with the same scientific content and with only minor modifications to the material used. All figures and tables are of identical scientific content.

As a result, the experts are convinced that the second submission to Polymer Testing constitutes a breach of warranties made by the authors with respect to the originality and censure this action which is, according to Committee on Publication Ethics ethical code adopted by the Taylor and Francis, publisher of the International Journal of Polymer Analysis and Characterization, a clear case of self-plagiarism.

What’s more, the IJPAC recommends that the journal that published the other paper, Polymer Testing, also retract its version:

It is the opinion of these experts that both papers published firstly in the International Journal of Polymer Analysis and Characterization and thereafter in Polymer Testing should be retracted from the electronic on-line versions, should not be published in the printed versions and should not be cited anywhere.

The paper titled “Polyimide surface modification by RF plasma for biocide attachment” was submitted September 10, 2015 and published on October 6, 2015 by IJPAC; it has not been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. The other paper, “Surface properties and antibacterial testing of partially alicyclic polyimide film modified by RF plasma and NaOH/AgNO3,” was submitted September 18, 2015, and published online December 3, 2015 in the journal Polymer Testing. It has also not been cited.

Josef Janca, IJPAC’s editor in chief, told us a reader pointed out to the journal that the paper looked suspiciously similar to the one in Polymer Testing. Both share the same last author, Simona Dunca of “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University. The first author on the IJPAC paper is also a co-author on the other, and vice versa.

Roger Brown, the editor of Polymer Testing, told us:

It seems that, although a paper was submitted to J. Anal. Char. [IJPAC] first, one was published in PT [Polymer Testing] in hard copy before both of us were advised of the similarities. The author’s  excuse was that the materials tested were different, which is a weak argument. Anyway, they asked to withdraw the submission to Anal. Char. As the PT paper was already in the public domain it was agreed that I would issue a note that drew attention to the situation, which I did.

Brown said he sent the following expression of concern to the manager for publication at Elsevier (who has since moved on from the organization) within a few days after he had been in contact with Janca of IJPAC and the study’s corresponding author, Andreea Irina Barzic:

We were advised that  the paper “Surface properties and antibacterial testing of a partially alicyclic polyimide film modified by RF plasma and NaOH/AgNO3 treatment” by Popovici et al published in Polymer Testing Vol 49 2016 p94 was also submitted at about the same time to the International Journal of Polymer Analysis and Characterization.

The corresponding author Dr Andreea Irina Barzic has advised that the two papers, whilst appearing almost identical, dealt with different copolyimide structures but this was not made clear. In consequence, the double submission can be viewed as self plagiarism.

Though Brown said the expression of concern should be available online, we were unable to find it; Brown said that he never checked. We contacted Simona Dunca, the last author on both papers, as well as Dumitru Popovici and Andreea Irina Barzic, the first authors on each paper. We will update if they respond.

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2 thoughts on “Researchers submit two similar papers 8 days apart; one is retracted”

  1. I find it odd that IJPAC cites the COPE guidelines but says that both versions of the paper should be retracted. What is the sense of that? The COPE retraction guidelines emphasize that retraction is not about punishing authors, it’s about cleaning up the research record. If the science is reliable, how are readers served by editors demanding that a study should be retracted, not published elsewhere, nor cited? That sounds like a fit of editorial pique to me. Journals should leave punishments to authors’ (or reviewers’) institutions or professional organizations. (CoI notice, I’m an author of the COPE guidelines)

  2. Personally I have never liked the regulation about simultaneous submissions to other journals. I think an author should be able to simultaneously submit to – i.e. -up to 3 different journals (as long as the journals in question are notified).
    Having to wait months to find your paper has been rejected then have to go through re-submission again causes massive delays.
    Of course one caveat of this is that it may end up wasting reviewer time (as the paper would have to go through 3 separate sets of reviews). Still if journals paid for reviewers this problem may disappear…

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