More than a year ago, an editor agreed a paper should be retracted. It hasn’t been.

Eighteen months after the editor in chief of a Springer Nature journal received allegations of plagiarism – and more than a year after the editor apparently decided to retract it – the article remains intact and the journal’s investigation has not yet concluded. 

The paper, “Robotic Standard Development Life Cycle in Action,” was published in the Journal of Intelligent & Robotic Systems in November 2019. It has been cited 13 times, according to Clarivate Analytics, five of those since the journal received the allegations. 

Its abstract states: 

Robotics is a fast-growing field which requires the efficient development of adapted standards. Hence, in this paper, we propose a development methodology to support the robot standardization effort led by international, technical, and professional associations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Our proposed standard development life cycle is a middle-out, iterative, collaborative, and incremental approach we have successfully applied to the development of the new IEEE Ontological Standard for Ethically Driven Robotics and Automation Systems (IEEE P7007 Standard).

The problem is, that methodology was developed by another researcher, systems engineer Paola Di Maio, who isn’t credited as an author or cited in the paper, Di Maio wrote in an email to the publisher in January 2021. (The corresponding author of the article, Joanna Isabelle Olszewska of the University of West Scotland, did not respond to our request for comment.) 

In subsequent back-and-forth emails we obtained, an editorial assistant told Di Maio in March of 2021 that the journal’s editor in chief agreed with her that the paper should be retracted. But a year later, when Di Maio followed up, the staffer said that the authors of the paper made claims in response that the journal needed to look into.

The paper has not been retracted or marked with an expression of concern. A spokesperson for the publisher said the investigation is “coming towards an end” and the individuals involved will learn the outcome “shortly.” 

In her email to Springer Nature in January 2021, Di Maio, a research scholar at the Ronin Institute for Independent Scholarship, summarized her complaint: 

In essence, a paper published by Springer, attached, plagiarizes my method [Just Enough Ontology] JEO

which was widely published and used and referenced for ten years before the Springer article was published

I presented JEO at the Royal College of Engineering in Stockholm in 2010 and it has been widely cited elsewhere

https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1988688.1988698

https://kir-lis.livejournal.com/

https://wiki.iaoa.org/index.php/Edu:Just_Enough_Ontology_(Paola_Di_Maio)

https://www.cutter.com/article/toward-just-enough-ontology-engineering-400671

I have been a contributor to the standard mentioned in the attached paper for some years

but my contributions were mishandled, they were reworded, misrepresented and attributed consistently to other members of the group

who did not have this expertise 

The paper, she continued:

adopts stap by step theJEO method I contributed to the group, , from conceptualization to integration, to publicize the work in their standard

without citing me nor the method I contributed, …

The bypassed plagiarisms checks by using  plagiarism software and then rewording the content of JEO and omitting key expressions

ie, there is little verbatim overlap, however the process of JEO is clearly adopted in its entirety, including the references I use in JEO related pubilcations

An editorial assistant acknowledged Di Maio’s email on January 29th, and explained the process that would follow. On March 26, 2021, the editorial assistant wrote: 

​​With apologies for not contacting you sooner, I can now at least inform you that we have consulted with the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Intelligent & Robotic Systems and he agrees with you that the article should be retracted.

This involves contacting the authors of the paper, and waiting for their replies and then agreeing upon the wording of a retraction notice, then obtaining permissions from our management to go forward with the retraction, and then handling the retraction itself. This will take some time, but at least you know we are moving in this direction now.

After a year went by, Di Maio followed up to ask why the paper hadn’t yet been retracted. On March 24th of this year, the editorial assistant wrote: 

While I will not deny the case stalled, this is not due to ill will or unfairness. At first it looked like plagiarism for which retraction was the only option, but when we asked the authors of the paper for their side of the matter, they made claims that also needed to be looked into. The Editor in Chief had to look for someone with suitable expertise and objectivity to delegate this to. 

On June 16, Di Maio followed up again to ask about the status, and noted “It has now been well over a year since I was assured action was going to be taken.” The editorial assistant responded later in the day:  

I do apologise for the time this is taking, but we are working on this. You have most certainly not been forgotten, and I am in contact with several people who are involved with this case at this moment. I hope to have a concrete proposal for the way forward soon. 

We contacted Springer Nature about the case. A spokesperson said:

We were notified about possible concerns regarding this paper in January 2021. It has taken some considerable time to look into the situation carefully and to consider all possible courses of action. The investigation is coming towards an end and we hope to be able to share the outcome with the individuals involved shortly. We cannot say any more than that at this time for confidentiality reasons.

Di Maio expressed frustration about how long it’s taken for the journal to act, and mentioned an initiative she started to assess how publishers handle complaints about plagiarism and how they can improve: 

The question is, why has the paper not yet been retracted, and what are the reasons for stalling?

This is giving the plagiarists more time to advance their careers and their organisations to obtain further funding.

It is disheartening  to see widespread research malpractice being dominant in academia, especially when the collaboration started in relation to standardization of ethical practices, Many research careers are built and funding obtained based on plagiarized  or fake research, often with the tacit approval of institutions and corporations  hiring dishonest researchers and thriving on breaches of integrity. They do not even respond to complaints. They operate outside and above the law.

 When fake or plagiarized research is carried out in the context of publicly funded projects, it becomes financial fraud. And there it is. Carried out in everybody’s  face and with impunity. We can identify and address only a small percentage of the breaches. PhD theses are routinely copied and used to write funding proposals. The original authors of the work are left out entirely. Many breaches take place without anyone even noticing, because they can be very subtle and to enforce complaints is very resource intensive. Not many researchers have the motivation and resources to fight this enormous tide. Researchers have to learn how to put forward complaints and the sector must  create a better system for the reporting, tracking and administration of plagiarism complaints.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

4 thoughts on “More than a year ago, an editor agreed a paper should be retracted. It hasn’t been.”

  1. Due to my personal experience, I completely understand how Paola Di Maio feels. It is clear to me now that the journals strongly resist the retraction and always try to find some excuses to stall (even avoid) it.

  2. Is there a need for another leaderboard? The longest time between decision to retract and retraction. Would one year even make the top 10?

  3. Is there any update on this retraction? it is still receiving citations:

    Olszewska, Joanna Isabelle, Michael Houghtaling, Paulo JS Goncalves, Nicola Fabiano, Tamas Haidegger, Joel Luis Carbonera, William Remington Patterson, S. Veera Ragavan, Sandro R. Fiorini, and Edson Prestes. “Robotic standard development life cycle in action.” Journal of Intelligent & Robotic Systems 98 (2020): 119-131.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.