A reviewer stole a manuscript and published it himself. But you wouldn’t know it from this retraction notice.

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Fish off someone else’s peer review!

So writes (in somewhat different words) Mina Mehregan, a mechanical engineer at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad in Iran. Mehregan and a colleague recently discovered that they’d been victimized by a group of unscrupulous reviewers who used the pretext of a long turnaround time to publish a hijacked version of their manuscript in another journal.

In a guest editorial for the Journal of Korean Medical Science — which wasn’t involved in the heist — Mehregan began by noting the toll that protracted peer review can take on authors:

When the review comments are not returned back in due time, there is a possibility that the invited reviewer does not submit the evaluation results in a timely manner intentionally so that he could have sufficient time to publish that original research in another journal as if it is his own work.

Then the piece turns personal:

This is exactly what happened to one of our recent works published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research [ESPR] journal. The reviewing process of the submitted paper took about nine months. After the publication of the original research, one day I accidentally noticed that the same work has been published into another international journal by other authors. I contacted the journal we published in and was informed that the Indian corresponding author of the plagiarized paper [in Energy Sources] was the reviewer of our manuscript. Fortunately, the plagiarized paper is now retracted, however—despite all the clear evidences regarding this blatant plagiarism—the investigation process by the journal to withdraw the offending item took about 5 months and this fraudulent article has been cited 17 times (8 self-citations, 3 citations by the authors from the same affiliation and 6 ones by the authors with the same nationality) during this time.

The scholarly community, Mehregan writes,

should pursue severe punishments for those who intentionally plagiarize others’ research works.

Energy Sources has a retraction notice for the stolen study, but it’s unsatisfying:

We, the Editors and Publishers of Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects, have retracted the following article:

Anderson, A.; Devarajan, Yuvarajan; Nagappan, Beemkumar; Effect of injection parameters on the reduction of NOx emission in neat bio-diesel fuelled diesel engine, Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects, 40(2) 2018, 186–192,10.1080/15567036.2017.1407844 .

We are retracting this article because of text overlap with a previously published article.

We have been informed in our decision-making by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions.

Devarajan, the corresponding author of the plagiarizing paper, did not respond to our request for comment.

What the journal knew

We asked the editor of the journal, Abbas Ghassemi, why the notice doesn’t tell readers what really happened. He was not forthcoming:

I am not at liberty to elaborate on the details of this case.

Ghassemi referred us to Bailey Young, a managing editor at Taylor & Francis, which publishes Energy Sources, but she did not respond. Nor did the company’s CEO, Annie Callanan. Elaine Devine, a spokesperson at Taylor & Francis, sent us this statement from the company in response to our follow-up questions:

We have followed Committee on Publication Ethics retraction guidelines in this case, having completed an investigation with the journal editor. As is normal practice, we have agreed the wording of the retraction notice with the journal editor and followed this flowchart throughout the investigation. In all retraction notices, we aim to be balanced in the reason given for retraction, using the evidence from the investigation to inform what is published in the notice. This has been applied in this instance, as it is for others.  

The journal editor, Dr. Ghassemi, did not immediately answer your questions when you contacted him as we work collaboratively with journal editors to investigate all ethical cases. This includes responding to queries coming in on a specific case from the wider research community.

In case there’s any question about whether Energy Sources knew what was going on with the papers, Mehregan forwarded us an email from the editorial office of ESPR to the other publication:

We received an email from an author who published at ESPR, who found out that her article ” Experimental investigation of urea injection parameters influence on NOx emissions from blended biodiesel-fueled diesel engines  Mehregan, M. & Moghiman, M. Environ Sci Pollut Res (2018) 25: 4303. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0817-1 ” has been plagiarized.

The author Yuvarajan Devarajan of the article “Effect of injection parameters on the reduction of NOx emission in neat bio-diesel fuelled diesel engine”, that you’ve published on the 28 Nov. 2017 has reviewed 2 times the article published at ESPR, on the 27 Nov 2017.  Then, he has plagiarized all the statements, the datas, tables, of her original paper, and submitted it under another title to your Journal Energy Sources: “Effect of injection parameters on the reduction of NOx emission in neat bio-diesel fuelled diesel engine”.

Mehregan told us that after that email was sent:

the Managing Editor of Energy Sources Journal contacted us via a confidential email and asked us to send her our original manuscripts and also provide her any more evidences we had about the case. We sent her all the documents and more importantly, we brought their attention to the data fabrication existing in the paper they published in Energy Sources journal. However, despite from all the clear evidences, the investigation process took so long. She told us that they are working on the case thoroughly and asked us to be more patient. Fortunately … the fraudulent paper is now retracted. However, we expected that the retraction action to be happened way sooner.

Mehregan added that:

after that horrible incident, I decided to share my experience with other scholars. After doing some research, I found some journals publishing articles about ethics, but I was informed that the scope of them were limited to the specific areas of ethics. JKMS was the only journal in my list which publishes articles about editing, writing and publishing issues without any specific limitation. Therefore, I decided to write an “Opinion” in this established journal. Fortunately, I found this journal so responsible about ethical issues in publication and I am so glad to choose this journal to publish my paper.

The response to her essay so far has been positive:

I received a few emails full of appreciation and sympathy and I am honored to have these great colleagues in scientific world. According to my experience, I believe that in order to prevent this sort of misconduct, it is the journals and publishers that needs to pursue severe punishment to stop these types of issues.

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6 thoughts on “A reviewer stole a manuscript and published it himself. But you wouldn’t know it from this retraction notice.”

  1. “text overlap” is a new term for robbery and stealing work of others. How peer reviewers and journal chief editors can be trusted? There must be sever punishment and high costs for such misconduct.

  2. It’s really unfortunate that Mehregan had to publish her note in such an unrelated journal. It’s doubtful that many of the readers of Environmental Science and Pollution Research also read the Journal of Korean Medical Science (it’s admirable that the latter published her editorial).

    It’s also surprising that Environmental Science and Pollution Research and Taylor & Francis seek to shield/protect the reputation of a reviewer that clearly plagiarized a submitted paper. Why not say what actually happened? Maybe they need to add a disclaimer: “Any papers submitted to this journal may be subjected to plagiarism by reviewers. Expect little to no action by Taylor & Francis. Tough luck “

    1. 8 years ago, I and my co-authors were exactly victims of a similar case in one of my papers. It took a substantial amount of time from us to return the paper. However, because there was a risk of multiple publications, we were in hurry to publish it ASAP. So, we published it in a low-ranked journal 🙁 The only contribution of the Mr. Thief was to changing “IRAN” to “PAKISTAN”.
      We added this in the footnote of the published paper:
      “The manuscript of the current paper was stolen in 2011and was illegally sent with the title of “INTERNATIONALIZATION OF SMES AND ORGANIZATIONAL FACTORS IN A DEVELOPING COUNTRY: (A CASE STUDY OF ICT INDUSTRY IN PAKISTAN)” to Australian Journal of Business and Management Research (AJBMR) for publication. As it was confirmed that it was an infringement of copyright after a series of legal actions, it was promptly removed from AJBMR’s official website. Any further publication of the same content by anyone anywhere is plagiarism. We would like to thank the editorial team of AJBMR for their kind cooperation in removing the stolen manuscript from the journal (see the appendix).”

      1. What an awful experience. I can’t for the life of me understand how a reviewer would think they could get away with stealing a manuscript without the true authors noticing. And Mr. Thief’s co-authors? At best they were ignorant of the theft and put their names onto a paper reporting research in which they had no involvement and contributed nothing.

  3. First of all, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the Retraction Watch team especially the writer of this post -Adam Marcus- for investigating this case thouroghly from all the angles in a short time. This is exactly what we expected from the Energy Sources journal to do.

    I also would like to thank Journal of Korean Medical Science because of its invaluable concern about ethical issues.

    During the very long investigation process by Energy Sources journal, I was wondering maybe ethical issues are less of a concern. But, reading the reviewers’ comments on my note submitted to JKMS, receiving the positive feedbacks when the editorial note had been published in JKMS and now reading all these comments made me realize that academic ethics is still an important issue for many researchers and this is really valuable. I hope these kinds of misconducts stop happennig in our academic area.

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