So, was it plagiarism? Journal retracts three papers over “citation and attribution errors”

When several recent submissions raised a red flag, a pediatrics journal decided to investigate. The journal, Pediatrics in Review, discovered “citation and attribution errors” in three case studies, which the journal has now retracted.  

Luann Zanzola, the managing editor of the journal, explained that the editors caught the errors when they scanned the three papers—one published in 2014 and two in 2015—using the plagiarism detection software, iThenticate. Zanzola told us that the three case studies “were flagged for high iThenticate scores,” and when the authors could not adequately explain the amount of text overlap, the editors retracted the papers.

The retraction notices for the three papers, published in the journal’s September 2017 issue, are identical:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has removed this article from circulation because it contained citation and attribution errors.

The 2014 paper, “3-Year-Old Boy With Persistent Right Chest Wheezing,” has not yet been cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. The two 2015 papers—“7-year-old Girl With Swelling in the Arm” and “Rash, recalcitrant tachycardia, and hypertension in a 16-year-old girl”—have only been cited by their retraction notices..

Two of the papers have two authors in common (1, 2)—Shahnawaz Amdani and Magda Mendez—both of whom worked at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, Bronx, N.Y. at the time of publication. (Amdani appears to have recently moved to Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit). The authors of the third paper work at Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Zanzola explained that the journal initially missed the problem because the “articles were published before the journal’s content management system had the CrossRef/iThenticate feature.”

The editors decided to review previously published papers after receiving several new submissions that raised “red flags.” Zanzola told us that “the authors in question submitted new articles,” which showed a “high similarity index” in iThenticate. The journal rejected the submissions, but decided to investigate:

… the iThenticate scores of previous manuscripts involving these authors and authors from other published papers.

The editors flagged the three now-retracted papers with high iThenticate scores and asked the authors to provide an explanation. Zanzola told us:

The authors either responded inadequately or not at all, and the articles were retracted after careful investigation from the executive editorial board

A high score on iThenticate and “citation and attribution errors” sounds like the journal may believe the authors plagiarized. We asked Zanzola if that was the case; she told us:

Each article needs to be examined individually. The 3 PIR cases were retracted due to citation and attribution errors.

As we’ve noted, some journals shy away from using the term “plagiarism”  — so much so, we created a category of retractions where the notices appear to use euphemisms for plagiarism, such as “overlap,” “inadvertently copied text,” and even the mouthful “misappropriation of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions.”

We contacted Amdani, the first author on two papers, and Samhar Al-Akash, a middle author on the third, about the citation and attribution errors. We will update the post if we hear back.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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2 thoughts on “So, was it plagiarism? Journal retracts three papers over “citation and attribution errors””

  1. In the past I, too, have referred to Turnitin, Ithenticate and similar programs as plagiarism detection software. But, as text plagiarism is really a judgement call based on how much textual material is shared between documents, software that provides us with text similarity measures should be referred to as just that: Text similarity software, not plagiarism detection software.

  2. It is laudable that the journal took the initiative to check previous articles of authors who are now flagged with plagiarism. Other articles – outside PIR – could be verified as well. More importantly, should their institutions not be informed when multiple cases of plagiarism by the same author are discovered?

    PS Indeed Miguel – ‘Text similarity software’ is the correct designation.

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