Chaos as Chaos retracts paper it apparently never should have published in the first place

Apologies in advance for the headache that might come your way after reading this post, but the journal Chaos has a mindbending retraction.

The editors have pulled an article they published in January 2019 over concerns about contaminated peer review and other problems. The paper, “Neglecting nonlocality leads to unrealistic numerical scheme for fractional differential equation: Fake and manipulated results,” was a broadside against an article that had appeared in a different journal.

According to the author, Muhammad Altaf Khan, of the City University of Science and Information Technology in Peshawar, Pakistan:

The purpose of this paper is to highlight the main comment raised on the published manuscript [A. Atangana and K. M. Owolabi, Math. Model. Nat. Phenom. 13, 3 (2018)] by Garrappa [Commun. Nonlinear Sci. Numer. Simul. 70, 302–306 (2019)]. It was shown that the scheme proposed by Garrappa [Commun. Nonlinear Sci. Numer. Simul. 70, 302–306 (2019)] did not capture the memory and nonlocality and led to unreliable results. Therefore, we decided to highlight and validate this issue by means of a scheme where misprinting or typos were observed. Further, we propose some examples where some of them were reported by Garrappa [Commun. Nonlinear Sci. Numer. Simul. 70, 302–306 (2019)]. It is shown further by considering different examples of the nature of linear and nonlinear problems, and we show that the scheme presented by Atangana and Owolabi [Math. Model. Nat. Phenom. 13, 3 (2018)] is correct and gives 100% agreement for the case of linear problems with the other methods in the literature, while for the case of nonlinear problems, it gives a reasonable agreement and thus the claim by Garrappa [Commun. Nonlinear Sci. Numer. Simul. 70, 302–306 (2019)] is baseless.

But in mid-May, the journal issued the following notice recalling Khan’s piece:

The Editor and the Publisher of Chaos are retracting the referenced publication,1 which was submitted as part of a Focus Issue on Fractional Differential Operators. The peer review process for this article was compromised and, in addition, the article contains substantial commentary on work published in Communications in Nonlinear Science and Numerical Simulation.2 This violates Chaos‘ policy which states that only comments on articles published in Chaos may be considered for publication. Finally, there are claims in the conclusions of Ref. 1, suggesting that the author of Ref. 2 manipulated results. The journal has no evidence to support these claims. For these reasons, this article has been retracted.

Where to begin? If, as Chaos maintains, the journal doesn’t publish critiques of papers that have appeared in other publications, why did it accept Khan’s manuscript in the first place? And, if the journal had no evidence to support his claims … why did it accept Khan’s manuscript in the first place?

As the notice states, the peer-review process seems to have been hacked. The language is what we’ve seen in cases of fake peer review, which has been a reason for more than 650 retractions since 2012.

We emailed the editor for clarification but haven’t heard back. Meanwhile, we did receive a response — albeit a convoluted one — from Khan to our queries. He disagreed with the retraction and blamed the decision on xenophobia, saying that the editor is “a Bogus person” and “selfish.”

The paper being critiqued in the now-retracted paper has, we note, been subjected to a corrigendum, but it does not appear to have any significant effect on the results, and the errors do not seem to suggest manipulation.

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6 thoughts on “Chaos as Chaos retracts paper it apparently never should have published in the first place”

  1. Some hints in order to find an answer to the question “why did the journal accept Khan’s manuscript in the first place?”:
    1) the aim of the Khan’s retracted paper was defending a paper by Atangana and Owolabi;
    2) the retracted paper was part of the Focus Issue “Fractional Differential Operators with Non-singular Kernels and their Applications in Nonlinear Systems” (this information is reported in the pdf of the paper just before the abstract);
    3) although after the retraction there are few tracks of this Focus Issue, it is still possible to note that Atangana and Owolabi were the guest editors of this Focus Issue

  2. I have noticed that Atangana (the guest editor of the retracted paper) was in the Advisory Board of Chaos-AIP but after the retraction of this paper his name has been deleted from the Advisory Board. Was he expelled from the the Advisory Board for the retraction of the paper he edited?

  3. Another paper in the same focus issue (I think this is the third one) has been retracted. The paper is “A fractional model for predator-prey
    with omnivore”, authors E. Bonyah, A. Atangana and A. A. Elsadany. The second author, A. Atangana, was guest editor of the focus issue. The retraction note is available at

  4. Another paper from this beleaguered special issue bites the dust, and it is retracted:

    The retraction notice doesn’t inform the reader that Atangana happens to be *both* an author of this erroneous work *and* one of the editors of the very same special issue that it is published in. Although AIP has scrubbed the internet of this key info, PubPeer has preserved the evidence: (see also #4)

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