A publisher just retracted 22 articles. And the whistleblower is just getting started.

SAGE Publishing is today retracting 22 articles by a materials science researcher who published in two of their journals — but the anonymous reader who brought the problems to their attention says the author’s duplication affects more than 100 articles.

Ali Nazari, now of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, had five papers retracted earlier this year from an Elsevier journal. His total of now 27 retractions — the others from the International Journal of Damage Mechanics and the Journal of Composite Materials — came following emails in January of this year from an anonymous reader to several publishers raising concerns that Nazari had duplicated his work in more than 100 articles.

Here’s the retraction notice for the 22 articles retracted by SAGE:

In 2019 SAGE became aware of author misconduct concerning suspected redundant publication of 22 articles published in International Journal of Damage Mechanics and Journal of Composite Materials. SAGE and the journals’ Editors immediately launched an investigation and found that the following articles contain significant overlap with previously published articles by at least one of the authors listed on each of the articles below. Therefore, SAGE and the journals’ Editors have decided to retract the following articles for reasons of redundant publication.

The papers have been cited from zero to 32 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Knowledge.

Nazari, who was at Islamic Azad University at the time the papers were published, has not responded to our requests for comment. His university, Swinburne, told us:

Swinburne can confirm that an investigation involving a Swinburne researcher is ongoing in line with university policies and procedures for responsible conduct of research. We cannot offer further comment on these allegations until that investigation has concluded and outcomes determined. Swinburne is committed to upholding research integrity and takes allegations of self-plagiarism seriously. More information on research integrity and our code of conduct is available here.

We asked SAGE whether it was using plagiarism detection software at the time Nazari’s now-retracted articles were published, from 2011 to 2013. It wasn’t, SAGE told us, but that has since changed:

Neither journals’ submission system used plagiarism/duplication checking software at the time (in common with most journals in the industry) and so the high levels of verbatim matching were not discovered until we investigated.

We have added a plagiarism/duplication checking step to our workflow for the journals. All new submissions will automatically generate a similarity report using the iThenticate system. Though not infallible, we are confident that this system would have picked up the very high levels of verbatim matches found in these papers and they would not have progressed to peer review. 

Whistleblower ‘relieved’

The anonymous reader who brought the issues to publishers’ attention told Retraction Watch that “the retraction notice  is accurate, but incomplete.” The reader said that he or she had also flagged potential inconsistencies in the data, inconsistent authorship lists, and what the reader called “clear falsification of data.”

The retraction notice only captures the duplication, without addressing the other concerns. 

The reader said that it would appear that 

…SAGE is retracting all papers that Nazari has ever published with that publisher. There are a few on the list that, as far as I can tell, I never suggested specifically.

I am relieved to see that there’s a publisher that is taking this seriously.

In addition to the five articles Elsevier has already retracted, the publisher is investigating others, the reader said. Springer Nature, which had investigated the issue in 2012 and decided not to retract any of Nazari’s articles, is investigating again. At the time of this writing, Taylor and Francis has not responded to the reader’s correspondence of last week.

So why did the reader become interested in the case?

Duplicative and low-quality research has become so common on the construction materials field, that researchers have to spend considerable efforts figuring out whether a paper is reliable. I was reading Dr. Nazari’s papers for my own work, and it took me reading a few dozen of his publications to realize the work was entirely unreliable and duplicative. The papers in question have been foundational to certain pursuits in my field. Only time will reveal the full extent of the damage that has been done. 

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5 thoughts on “A publisher just retracted 22 articles. And the whistleblower is just getting started.”

  1. Swinburne employed him most likely on account of his “prolific” research output. They are equally to blame for not checking the quality of the outputs of an applicant. The publish or perish mentality of universities drives this fraudulent behavior.

  2. The papers in question have been foundational to certain pursuits in my field

    You missed an opportunity for a punning headline involving the role of concrete in these papers.

  3. For what its worth I think there may be a typo in the text above : journal … “Journal of Composite Mechanics” should be “Journal of Composite Materials” (ISSN 0021-9983)? Didn’t find a SAGE journal by the title described here…

  4. Unsurprising.

    There is a large number of “scientists” like the author discussed above, whose modus operandi is precisely this: copy and paste papers together and sneak as many of them past editors as many editors and reviewers as possible. I see it my area of engineering constantly. And, I am often sent manuscripts to review that clearly were not vetted against iThenticate.

    The onslaught of bad actors and submissions is overwhelming journals, editors and publishers.

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