The circle of life, publish or perish edition: Two journals retract more than 40 papers

Talk about the publish-or-perish version of the circle of life.

A Springer Nature journal has retracted 33 articles — 29 from one special issue, and four from another — for a laundry list of publishing sins, from fake peer review to plagiarism to stealing unpublished manuscripts.

And an Elsevier journal has retracted ten papers recently for duplication — of ten of the Springer Nature journal’s papers.

A typical notice from the Springer Nature journal, Multimedia Tools and Applications (MTAP): 

The Editor-in-Chief has retracted this article [1], which was published as part of special issue “Data Security in Multimedia Modeling” because its content has been duplicated from an unpublished manuscript submitted by a different group of authors. In addition, there is evidence suggesting authorship manipulation and an attempt to subvert the peer review process. Author Luming Zhang stated on behalf of all co-authors that they agree to this retraction.

Springer Nature journals have retracted almost 300 papers for fake peer review, and this is not MTAP’s first time at the fake peer review rodeo. For more on how fake peer review works, here’s a 2014 feature we wrote for Nature on the subject.

Here are some “highlights” from the 33 retractions, which occurred between May 2019 and now, but were all gathered in the April 2020 issue:

  • 29 were associated with fake peer review
  • 24 were associated with authorship issues (i.e. manipulation of authorship)
  • 19 involved plagiarism and/or duplication
  • 12 articles were plagiarized from unpublished manuscripts
  • All of the articles were by co-authored by researchers in China, with one a collaboration with authors from Japan
  • One author — Caiyou Zhang — has five retractions
  • Five authors — Chao Xiong, Hongwei Du, Xia Han, Yuan Li, and Zepeng Wang — have four retractions
  • Five authors — Bo Dai, Feng You He, Hu Zhen-tao, Tengfei Wu, and Yiyang Yao — have three retractions

The original papers appeared from January 2017 through February 2018 and involve a total of 72 authors, two of whom were editors of one of the special issues, “Multi-source Weak Data Management under Big Data”: Yiyang Yao, of the State Grid Zhejiang Electric Power Company Information & Telecommunications Branch, China, and Luming Zhang; of Hefei University of Technology, China.

Yao is also a co-author of four papers retracted from the Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation, an Elsevier title, since October 2018 that appear to be duplicates of papers now retracted from MTAP. Luming Zhang is Yao’s co-author on one such paper — and Caiyou Zhang, who has five MTAP retractions, also has two in the JVCIR.

In fact, of the 35 authors of the retracted JVCIR articles, 26 are co-authors on the MTAP retractions.

An example of one Elsevier retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief. Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation was made aware that the paper “A method of multi-criteria set recognition based on deep feature representation” was previously published in Multimedia Tools and Applications, 2017,–5385-3. The content was submitted to Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation without disclosure of its previous publication.

As such this article represents a misuse 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. The authors have not responded to correspondence about this retraction.

A tangled web, you might say.

Neither Yao nor Luming Zhang responded to our requests for comment. Neither did MTAP editor in chief Borko Fuhrt, instead forwarding our email to Springer Nature. A publisher spokesperson sent this statement, which did not add much to the retraction notices:

We retracted 33 articles published in the journal Multimedia Tools and Applications, following a detailed investigation which showed evidence of peer review manipulation, authorship manipulation, misappropriation of unpublished manuscripts, plagiarism, figure duplication without appropriate permission and citation manipulation.

As a result of reports raised by concerned parties, we launched a detailed investigation into a number of Special Issues published in the journal. The investigation was carried out according to COPE guidelines. We have now published retraction notices for 33 articles which were published in two Special Issues. Not all of the articles show evidence of all of the above issues, but each of them has demonstrated at least one.

The decision to retract these articles is solely to correct the scientific record. We have notified authors’ institutions of the retractions where contacts were available.

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4 thoughts on “The circle of life, publish or perish edition: Two journals retract more than 40 papers”

  1. I am particularly interested in the cases such as “Analysis of security operation and maintenance system using privacy utility in media environment”, where the authors are once-only offenders, but the References list is dominated by the seminal contributions of Luming Zhang. These citations often have little to do with the text, and seem to have been copy-pasted from Luming Zhang’s CV.

    This reached Peak Citation-Plantation in one case where every one of 21 citations was to Luming Zhang’s magisterial oeuvre.

    1. Its so pathetic that a scientific research article will contain over 90% of cited references from the same author. That implies that he/she is a custodian of knowledge in that specialist area. Are other works not good enough to be cited?

  2. There are too many new journals (started by legitimate publishers). Each journal has too many editors and too many editorial board members. This increase in numbers is attributed to enabling faster review and quicker publication. This situation creates inherent built in problems. There are very few papers that need to be published quickly.
    Each article has a date of receipt, a date of acceptance and a date of publication. Why should it matter whether a paper gets published with a turn around time of a month or two months or more? Before the internet, manuscripts took a long time from submission to publication and in my opinion, things were done more honestly.

    Honesty, legitimacy and accuracy are far more important than speed.

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