Did the author of a now-retracted article bribe a critic to silence him?

Authors react in a variety of ways to criticism of their work. Some stonewall, some grit their teeth but make corrections, and others thank their critics. But what about bribery?

After an economist alerted a journal and government agency to potential problems with a 2015 paper, he says the first author tried to bribe him to withdraw his accusations.

The article has since been retracted by the Editor-in-Chief of Scientometrics, citing an investigation that uncovered “severe insufficiencies” including the use of sources and materials “without attribution.”

Jen-Chang Liu, a professor at Takming University of Science and Technology, raised concerns of misconduct in the paper, “The financial crisis research: a bibliometric analysis,” in a letter to the editors back in May. While the journal was investigating the allegations, Liu claims he was bribed by first author Chien-Lung Hsu, also a professor at Takming, to the tune of 30,000 Taiwan dollars (equivalent to $1,000 USD) to withdraw his accusations of plagiarism from the Taiwanese Ministry of Education.

The paper’s two authors, Hsu and Chun-Hao Chiang at Mega Financial Holding Company, vehemently deny giving Liu any money. Hsu told us that they “regret” the retraction and “are still trying to mend the insufficiency and improve the article.” The paper has been cited three times since it was published in 2015, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Here is the full retraction note, published this month:

The Editor-in-Chief has decided to retract the following article, Chien-Lung Hsu and Chun-Hao Chiang: The financial crisis research: a bibliometric analysis. Scientometrics 105, pp. 161–177, DOI 10.1007/s11192-015-1698-z.

Upon investigation carried out according to the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines, it has been found that the article contains severe insufficiencies regarding the use of sources and replication of material (figures, tables and verbatim text) without attribution or with inappropriate quotation. The list of identified cases comprises the following sources.

  • Ho, Scientometrics (2014) 98:137–155
  • Bhanot et al., Journal of Banking & Finance (2014) 38:51–63
  • Mink & de Haan, International Money and Finance (2013) 34:102–113
  • Wang & Yao, Applied Economics (2014) 46:14, 1665–1676
  • Tsai & Yang (Journal of Medical Library Association (2005) 93(4):450–458

Further inconsistencies concern retrieval, management, and reporting of data resulting in irreplicability of figures and findings.

The authors have agreed on the retraction.

Though the statement concludes with the authors agreeing with the retraction, they aren’t happy about it. First author Hsu told us:

We regret to see this result of retracting our article. We are still trying to mend the insufficiency and improve the article. Hope we can resubmit the manuscript which can satisfy the standard of the Journal. About the accusation of Mr. Liu is not true. My coauthor and I have conducted bibliometric analyses for many years and we spent lots of time and effort on this manuscript. It’s really difficult to publish on an international top journal. The retraction is a great blow to us. But it reminds us to have more prudent attitude when conducting research in the future. Hope we can have more valuable contribution to the academic.

An unusual sequence of events

Liu, who has previously accused other Taiwanese scholars of fabricated papers, openly criticized the Scientometrics paper in multiple online posts in November 2016.

Liu said he subsequently submitted his concerns to both Takming University and the Taiwanese Ministry of Education, and in May 2017, submitted a Letter to the Editor at Scientometrics, expressing his concerns of plagiarism.

According to András Schubert, Editor of Scientometrics, the authors were immediately informed of the accusations and an investigation was opened into the matter. He told us:

An investigation was initiated and performed by a Special Editorial Committee, in which all documents provided by Dr. Liu and Drs Hsu and Chiang were taken into consideration.

The investigation was concluded on July 13, 2017. The results were summarized in a report, which was sent to both parties. According to the conclusions of the report, “The accusation of plagiarism seems to be proven, even if not in the most severe form: the “borrowed” material was never explicitly presented as own result. The accusation of data fabrication is a more delicate case. The data in the paper are inconsistent and irreproducible, but there is no explicit proof of intentional data manipulation, they might be the result of careless data management and partly a side-effect of plagiarism: the inattentive copying of material containing data inconsistent with the paper. A lot of the weaknesses of the paper might be the result of the authors’ insufficient command of English that prevented them to use the source materials critically and constructively. All in all, the paper in the published form contains a great number of highly unethical and also misinformative elements, therefore, the retraction of the paper would be greatly advisable.”

Both parties seemed to understand and acknowledge the report and its conclusions.

Based on the suggestion of the report, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Scientometrics, Prof. Wolfgang Glänzel, initiated the retraction of the paper.

But while the journal was investigating the allegations, Liu told us that he was offered and took a bribe from Hsu “after I promised to withdraw the accusation to our Ministry of Education.” Liu says Hsu insisted he accept 30,000 Taiwan dollars of gift receipts, stating:

  1. He insisted me to take it.
  2. I took it so as to alleviate his hostility toward me, since I am confident that it will be retracted.
  3. I distributed them to my students.
  4. At the same time, close colleagues of me said that it could be described as bribery or extortion.

Liu sent us pictures of a document that he says Hsu asked him to sign in return. Liu said:

Under pressure and bribery, on 20 June Mr. Hsu and his secretary asked me to sign a Chinese document (no legal effect) containing 5 declarations. I refused to sign it unless it deleted the one claiming Hsu did not violate academic ethics.

Liu did sign the document. Here is the original version, revised version, and English translation.

When shown these pictures, as well as those for the gift receipts, and asked for an explanation, Hsu responded:

[W]e did not give Dr. Liu anything as a gift. We have no idea why he made the claim and we can’t see how he described the money exchanged only by the pictures. But how can we explain if we did not do it? Hope you can understand that the only thing we want to do now is to revised the article not to fight with others.

Hsu says Liu “provided” the document, signed it, then gave it to them:

Since we have known the criticisms of article was made by Dr. Liu whom is the colleague with me at the Takming University. We tried to discuss the article with him to clarify his queries and finally we got his understand and kindly provided us the statement. We have no idea about the difference between the original and revised versions because as the pictures, both of the documents have his signature on them. And I don’t know why we have to deny a document which asserts the misunderstandings of the article with the signature of Dr. Liu? No one can push Dr. Liu to sign any documents without his agreement.

Liu, however, said it was the other way around. So why did he sign it? He told Retraction Watch that he

wanted to end the meeting and I was confident that Hsu’s paper would be retracted.

And it was, a fact that may be one of the only clear agreements in this story.

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