Four years after readers raise concerns, journal finally retracts climate paper

The wheels of scientific publishing turn slowly … but they do (sometimes) turn.

In January, we reported on the case of a paper on global warming marred by several problems, including allegations of plagiarism and “false claims” by the authors — which readers had raised as early as 2014, with no result. (Find a discussion of those allegations here.)

Now, the journal, Elsevier’s Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (ironic on multiple levels, when you think about it), is retracting the paper.

According to the long-time-in-coming retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief due to duplicate publication based on parts of the authors’ own book chapter ‘Global Warming: CO2 vs Sun,’ by Georgios Florides, Paul Christodoulides and Vassilios Messaritis, published: September 27th 2010, DOI: 10.5772/10283.

One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system.

The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

Florides acknowledges in this post that his group did recycle some language from a book chapter they’d written — 16% of the paper, according to the researchers. He tells Retraction Watch:

If the Editor and Reviewers felt that that 16% was inappropriate we could have easily avoided it by just referring the reader to the book content. The duplication was considered necessary in order to give the reader a complete view of the subject. Besides no one can steal his own ideas, and according to RSER’s own definition plagiarism is “the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, or words without giving appropriate credit, including those obtained through confidential review of others’ research proposals and manuscripts.”

The real reason for the retraction, Florides said,

is the scientific content of the article and the inability of the accusers to present a scientific reasoning for reply. By retracting the article on the excuse of duplication (by 16% at the time of publication, from our own work, although we refer to it in the article) no one would pay attention to the substance of the article and there would be no need for a scientific answer. By carefully studying our article you will understand why it should be silenced (obliterated, eliminated).

Ari Jokimaki, one of the critics of the paper, told us by email:

Overall, we are glad to see that the paper finally got retracted. We originally thought that the paper should never even have been published, but to us our findings of the paper (plagiarism and flawed contents) were such that retraction of the paper might be needed and we indicated that in our original contacts with the journal. So, even if it took long, we think that the correct thing happened in the end.

However, Jokimaki noted that the retraction statement falls a bit shy of comprehensive:

Plagiarism is the clearest reason for the rejection here. Flawed contents are always a bit of a gray area, even if in this case it was quite obvious that there were lot of flaws in the paper. So they probably just went for the reason they felt were safest, and just didn’t comment on the rest. They could have mentioned that the plagiarism involved lot more than just Florides et al. own book chapter, though.

It’s unclear why the process took this long; Jokimaki details the timeline here. Last year, Elsevier told us that the journal would have a new editor as of January of this year, and that she would be reviewing the dossier.

In an editor’s note — paywalled — accompanying the retraction notice, editor Aoife Foley points readers to the criticism by Jokimaki, and the response by Florides. In a passage that avoids taking sides, Foley writes:

We would also like to advise readers that although climate change and global warming is a contentious field of research, we believe that the scientific community must still be able to see and read all aspects of the arguments. Our readers and reviewers play a key role in evaluating such work and checking for robustness to ensure that all sides of the debate are relayed.

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