“I cannot agree to this unfounded, unscientific, and rather Kafkian retraction.”

Franz Kafka

Mladen Pavicic, of the Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany, and the Ruder Boskovic Institute in Zagreb, Croatia has had a paper retracted from Nanoscale Research Letters.

He’s not happy about it. 

In a preprint posted to arXiv, “Response to “Retraction Note: Can Two-Way Direct Communication Protocols Be Considered Secure,” Pavicic writes:

Consequently, I cannot agree to this unfounded, unscientific, and rather Kafkian [6] retraction.

Reference six is, of course, to Kafka’s The Trial.

Here’s the retraction notice, published in July:

The editors have retracted this article [1] because after publication concerns were raised regarding the validity of the conclusions drawn. Post-publication peer review has revealed a flaw in the application of the key rate equation r = IAB-IAE. For calculation of the term IAE, the effect of disturbance (D) on both the message mode (MM) and control mode (CM) was not taken into account. The main claim of the paper cannot be reliably reached. The author does not agree to this retraction.

We asked whether Pavicic had submitted the preprint to Nanoscale Research Letters. No, he said. “I don’t believe they would publish it.” That’s because, he said, after a group of authors had submitted a comment on his paper,

I was asked to write a response and I did so but the referees suggested the editor not publish it and he hasn’t.

The comment was not published, either, but the authors posted it on arXiv, after which Pavicic posted a comment of his own.

We asked the journal for comment on the arXiv preprint. Jiang Wu, editor in chief, told us:

We were not aware of the deposition on arXiv.  In this case, concerns were raised with us after this paper and we solicited a post publication review from an established expert in the field.  We are satisfied from the review that a retraction was warranted. We treat correspondences of this type as confidential and therefore cannot comment further.

Kafkaesque

Given Pavicic’s reference to Kafka, perhaps it was to be expected that reporting on this retraction tangled us for a few days in Springer Nature’s bureaucracy.

That’s because the email address that Nanoscale Research Letters provides for “General inquiries” is answered not by an editor there, but by various “Global Open Research Support Specialists” at the publishing Leviathan. Those specialists apparently tried to fit our request for comment into a few different scenarios.

First came this:

Thank you for your interest in linking to the Springer Nature website. Unfortunately, it is not Springer Nature’s policy at this time to reciprocate links and publish guest posts. I am sorry to disappoint you on this matter.

We were sorely disappointed that a request we did not make was denied.

But there was hope. We could write a commentary ourselves! A very small one, though:

In line with your request, if you wish to submit your article as Nano Commentaries, you may find one criteria below:

— The first form is a discussion of an article or trial that was recently published or that is soon to be published, and that is interesting enough to warrant further comment or explanation. This type of Nano Commentary discusses specific issues within a subject area rather than the whole field, explains the implications of the article and puts it in context. Opinions are welcome as long as they are factually based.

We of course appreciate the offer.

Update, 1730 UTC, 11/26/19: We are reminded, belatedly, that this was not Pavicic’s first retraction. Seven years ago, we reported on a paper he retracted himself. In what was perhaps foreshadowing of this post, we asked,

Are we the only ones who find “All my attempts to patch the error have failed” a poetic, no-nonsense way to express mature scientific resignation?

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5 thoughts on ““I cannot agree to this unfounded, unscientific, and rather Kafkian retraction.””

  1. Funny, yesterday I sent an image concern to a group of editors at a journal and copied a SpringerNature generic address. Today I got a similar nonsensical reply suggesting I contact the corresponding author instead (who has seen the PubPeer post but not replied, as I explained in my initial note). Not sure this is the approach recommended by COPE.

    1. Update on my correspondence with SpringerNature. Later in the day, they responded to my note about COPE by saying now that the recipient has forwarded my query to the “Production Team. They will be looking into your query and will be in touch shortly.”

  2. In terms of the misquotation of Eric Hoffer, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket” we see much evidence of the beginning of the racket phase after the businessification of journals. Once the newsletters of august learned societies, journals published articles of interest to their members. As the field of science expanded, overwhelmed journals were reorganized as separate businesses, now entering the racketeering phase as witnessed by predatory journals and the non-response by journal managers in this affair.

    Interruptions to double-digit profits are not appreciated.

    Scientists are reimagining the publication process, as evidenced by the various open arXives, where open debate may one day replace the non-response this racketeering journal business model is currently showing. Thankfully PubPeer provides a locale to lodge observations of problematic content in journal articles where journal business managers refuse to provide the interactive discourse necessary for the self-correcting aspect of the scientific enterprise.

  3. This story really does need a bit of a more clear context and explanation. Also, I do not think that mention of a 7 year old self-retraction bears on anything except to create an inappropriate and off topic connotation of assignation of questionable creditbility of the author, and is in really poor taste. A traffic ticket I received 7 years ago in which I paid my debt to society has absolutely nothing to do with a speeding ticket I might have received 7 years later.
    Really you needed to have applied a fairness-sense of proportion here. T’hanks.

    1. Marek Pyka’s comment rightly calls not only for fairness but also for intellectual integrity of those who undertake evaluation of a retraction procedure imposed on the author (me). “This story really does need a bit of a more clear context and explanation” instead of twisting the facts offered at the end of paper: “We are reminded, belatedly, that this was not Pavicic’s first retraction. Seven years ago, we reported on a paper he retracted himself.” The facts are that seven years ago I retracted that paper myself (because I made a fatal error in it) and now I have “had a paper retracted from Nanoscale Research Letters,” i.e., this is not _my_ retraction – the editors retracted my paper. They did so without specifying details of “the flaw” I made. https://doi.org/10.1186/s11671-019-3086-8 They only write: “Post-publication peer review has revealed a flaw in the application of the key rate equation r=IAB-IAE,” but as I pointed out in my ArXiv comment, my result does not rely on r and actually any reference on r can be omitted from the paper. The problem with this Retractionwatch paper is that its author (Ivan Oransky) seems reluctant to consider a possibility that sometimes a flaw might lie with editors and their referees and not with authors. But for the time being I would request a correction and apology from Ivan Oransky concerning “this was not Pavicic’s first retraction.” Also, the readers would certainly welcome “a bit of a more clear context and explanation.”

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