Author loses five recent papers for copying multiple figures, unspecified “overlap”

Two journals have retracted five recent papers by a researcher in Saudi Arabia after discovering extensive overlap, which one journal called plagiarism.

In one retracted paper, all schemes and figures are copies from other publications; in another, more than half of the figures are lifted. The journal that retracted the other three papers did not provide details about the nature of the overlap.

All five retracted papers—originally published within the last 15 months—have the same corresponding author: Soliman Mahmoud Soliman Abdalla, a professor of physics at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

According to a spokesperson for Polymers, readers flagged two papers in July 2017; both were retracted in August.

The spokesperson for Polymers told us that the journal ran the papers through the plagiarism detection software, iThenticate, but found “no significant levels of copied text.” The journal says it missed the overlap because:

Copied figures are more difficult to detect and we only investigate in certain cases. Given the ithenticate result and the fact that reviewers did not raise any concerns, we did not check further prior to publication.

The spokesperson told us that the journal asked the authors about the figures and learned:

The authors had not received the necessary permission to use the figures.

According to the journal, the authors agreed to the retraction.

Abdalla did not respond to our request for comment.

The three retractions in Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy never label the issues as “plagiarism,”  and instead cite a “high degree of overlap” with other articles and failure “to properly credit” the original sources and authors. (The notices do state that the journal “will not tolerate plagiarism.”) We contacted the journal for more details, but did not receive responses to our queries.

Here’s the retraction notice for both papers in Polymers:

These two articles [1,2] published in Polymers will be marked as retracted. It has come to our attention that more than half of the figures in the published paper [1] and all schemes and figures in the published paper [2] are copied from two previous publications [3,4]. We consider this to be a serious breach of publication ethics.

We very much regret that the plagiarism of these figures was not detected prior to publication. We would like to offer our apologies to readers of Polymers and wish to thank the readers who brought it to our attention. Polymers is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and strives to uphold the highest ethical standards. We are committed to taking appropriate action when such cases are reported.

The first Polymers paper, “A Bio Polymeric Adhesive Produced by Photo Cross-Linkable Technique,” published in August 2016, has been cited four times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science—including one time by the retraction notice.

The second paper, “Controlled Light Cross-Linking Technique to Prepare Healable Materials,” was published June 2017 and has been cited once by the retraction notice.

The Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy retracted the three papers in question in May 2017.

Here’s the notice for “Safety considerations during production and consumption of hydrogen using proton exchange membrane electrolysis:”

The above article1 has been retracted by the Editors-in-Chief of the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy and AIP Publishing due to a high degree of overlap with an article published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy.2 Given the extent of the overlap and the failure to properly credit the original source and authors of the material, we are retracting the article.1

We are also retracting two additional articles,3,4 by the same corresponding author, which exhibited high degrees of overlap with two other previously published works.5,6 AIP Publishing and its Journals have a strong commitment to preserving the integrity of the scientific record and will not tolerate plagiarism.

The paper, published in January 2017, has been cited three times, once by each of the retraction notices.

Here’s the similarly worded notice for “High-efficient and low-cost catalyst for hydrogen evolution reaction: Nickel phosphide nano-spheres,” and the notice for “Stability and combustion of metal nano-particles and their additive impact with diesel and biodiesel on engine efficiency: A comprehensive study.” Both papers were published in April 2017. Only the retraction notices have been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Another wrinkle

Antonio Pizzi, the academic editor on the two Polymers papers, told us that a researcher contacted him to complain that the data presented in the 2016 Polymers paper “were a copy of a paper” she had published in 2008.

Pizzi looked into the allegations and found similarities between the figures in both papers; “what was very bad,” he said, “is that some scanning electron microscope pictures presented were copied from the earlier paper.”

Pizzi told us that he contacted the journal to recommend that the 2016 Polymers paper be withdrawn and “that the author that had copied the pictures (at least) be excluded for ever from publishing” in the journal. The journal told us it doesn’t “discuss actions taken against specific authors,” but said it “would, of course, apply careful checks to any future submissions from the author.”

Pizzi is also listed as an author on one of the retracted papers in the Journal of Renewable Energy; he told us:

I did not even know that the authors had put my name on it. I just learned it when I had a com[m]unication from the journal that the paper was withdrawn.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen (for Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy retractions)

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