Meet the postdoc who says he’s been trying to retract his own paper since 2016

Photo by Bilal Kamoon via flickr

In August 2015, bioengineers gathered in Milan, Italy, for the 37th annual conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. About 2,000 papers were accepted and published online for the conference. But an author of one of those articles says he’s been trying to retract it since 2016.

As a PhD student at the Université de Lorraine, in France, Khuram Faraz worked with professors Christian Daul and Walter Blondel on the processing of biomedical images, mainly for dermatology. Faraz is listed as a co-author on a paper titled “Optical flow with structure information for epithelial image mosaicing,” which was published at the 2015 conference. The paper has been cited twice, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

A few months after the conference, in January 2016, Faraz emailed Daul and Blondel about his concerns with the study, according to emails that Faraz shared on PubPeer last June. Faraz allegedly told Daul and Blondel that, for a specific method used in the paper, called RFLOW:

there are things in which I find inconsistencies or I do not agree with their formulations.

Faraz also wrote, on PubPeer, that he had:

never seen the solution or implementation of the approach presented in this paper and have not been able to obtain one from my co-authors. So, I have no way to verify the exactitude of the results presented in it.

The emails hint at a contentious relationship between Faraz and the paper’s first author, Sharib Ali. Faraz sent emails to Ali, questioning the novelty of the paper, and claiming that he didn’t properly acknowledge two similar bioimaging methods that had been published previously. Ali told Daul and Blondel that he found Faraz’s criticisms “very offending,” and told Faraz “to concentrate on positive aspects instead of proving someone wrong. You gain nothing with this. I really have no time for you.”

By June 2020, Faraz publicly distanced himself from the paper, writing that he does “not stand by this publication anymore.” He said that, “In 2016, I had requested my supervisors (listed as the last two authors in this publication) to get it retracted.” He also minimized his involvement with the paper, writing that he:

did not fully understand its content at the time of its preparation (when I was a few months into my doctoral program), [and that he] “contributed only to some of the bibliographic review and some textual editing.”

Faraz — who is now a postdoc at Jean Monnet University, in Saint-Etienne, France — later emailed his concerns about the study to three people who served as editors at the 2015 conference, including editor in chief Jim Patton. Faraz told Retraction Watch that he hoped they would initiate an “independent inquiry” into his concerns. That didn’t bear fruit, so in August 2020, Faraz asked the three conference editors to retract the paper or remove his name from it. Patton has not responded to our requests for comment.

In response to an email from Retraction Watch, asking if a request had been made to retract the study, IEEE spokesperson Francine Tardo at first said that no such request had been received:

To date, our publications team has not received a request for a retraction from the authors. IEEE takes these types of inquiries seriously. IEEE will retract papers as needed to protect the integrity of our content.  

Then, less than one day later, Tardo sent a follow-up email, confirming that IEEE would investigate the issue:

We learned today that one of the authors on the paper you referenced has previously reached out to an IEEE contact outside of our publications team.  We are currently investigating this matter. As previously stated, IEEE takes these types of inquiries seriously and will retract papers as needed to protect the integrity of our content.

In response to an email from Retraction Watch, Sharib Ali, the study’s lead author, said:

Thank you for writing me directly. The co-author himself presented this paper and was sitting next to the desk during experiments. There is a long history behind this. It is mostly personal and not professional. 

Ali did not respond to follow-ups from Retraction Watch seeking to clarify that personal history, but did say that:

“We are seeking advices [sic] with how to deal with this, and we are process [sic] to deal with this harassment.” 

Ali copied Daul and Blondel on the email, but neither of them responded to requests for comment. 

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One thought on “Meet the postdoc who says he’s been trying to retract his own paper since 2016”

  1. Based on the writeup here, I was wondering why the postdoc doesn’t just drop this. He’s raised concerns but they don’t sound that terrible – he’s a middle author, nothing has really happened, so maybe best to just let it go?

    But looking at the pubpeer thread, there are image duplications and data that has been duplicated from a different technique. If those pubpeer comments are correct, this is way more serious than lacking novelty and missing a citation or two.

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