The author of a retracted paper learns to be careful what he wishes for

Sometimes leaving well-enough alone is the best policy. Ask Teja Santosh Dandibhotla.

Upset that a paper of his had been retracted from the Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Santosh, a computer scientist at the CVR College of Engineering in Hyderabad, India, contacted us to plead his case. (We of course do not make decisions about retractions, we reminded him.)

Santosh’s article, “Intelligent defaulter Prediction using Data Science Process,” had been pulled along with some 350 other papers in two conference proceedings because IOP Publishing had “uncovered evidence of systematic manipulation of the publication process and considerable citation manipulation.”

The investigation of those papers had been triggered by the discovery by Guillaume Cabanac and colleagues that 20 contained   tortured phrases. We’ve described those as “what happens to words that get translated from English into a foreign language, then back to English — perhaps by a computer trying to generate a scholarly publication for a group of unscrupulous authors.

Santosh objected. His beef was that his article contained no gobbledygook text. Which was true, as Cabanac acknowledged in an email after we copied him into the exchange. He suggested Santosh contact IOP. 

That news was, briefly, encouraging to Santosh: 

This gives us more confidence to proceed further.

But neither Cabanac nor IOP had ever said the Santosh’s paper contained tortured phrases. So when we forwarded his email to Kim Eggleton, Research Integrity & Inclusion Manager at IOP Press, which publishes the Journal of Physics, to ask if Santosh had been in touch, she broke the bad news to him: 

We appreciate having your article retracted is disappointing, however we are following industry best practice and will not reverse this decision.

All papers retracted meet the criteria for retraction as stated by the Committee for Publication Ethics. The retraction notice clearly states the reason for retraction is systematic manipulation of the publication process and citation manipulation, which affected all papers. Tortured phrases did not appear in every paper, nor is this suggsted anywhere in the notice or the coverage by Retraction Watch. For your paper, the peer review reports we were sent contained high levels of similarity with other peer review reports for different conferences (as did the reports for many other papers). References 3 and 4 in your paper were to the conference organisers own work and bear no relevance to your article – these same (and other) references to the conference organisers work appear in all papers. We believe (and other authors have confirmed) they were added by the organisers after submission. 

Eggleton added that the journal wouldn’t consider a revision of his article: 

You are free to resubmit the work elsewhere as you own the copyright to the work, however you should declare this retraction so that the other journal can take this into consideration.

Santosh thanked Eggleton, and said he would “surely take into consideration your suggestions.”

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One thought on “The author of a retracted paper learns to be careful what he wishes for”

  1. One could interpret your article as implying that the author is solely responsible for (“careful what you wish for…”) , which not be the case. In my experience, for JCPS “journal” papers, IOP commissions the conference organizers to act as “editors” and to manage the review process. They have to “pinky swear” that the reviews will be done in accordance with good editorial policy, but, in reality, the conference organizers do many of the reviews themselves, and may be inclined to use shortcuts (copy/paste comments). Worse, unscrupulous organizers could use their “editorship” as a means to increase their publication count (please cite these papers), and the authors would be unaware of this. I wonder if the other conferences were organized by the same people…

    This does not completely absolve the author of responsibility if they are citing papers at the request of the conference organizer that are irrelevant to the paper, but there may be a power dynamic that would coerce the author to do this.

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