‘A big pain’: Professor up to six retractions for plagiarism and manipulated peer review

Bilal Afsar

A business professor has now had six papers retracted, resulting from a combination of plagiarism and manipulated peer review.

All six retractions for Bilal Afsar, an associate professor of management sciences at Hazara University in Pakistan, have come since last February. He is the only common author on all the papers, which were published in 2019 and 2020 – and in comments to Retraction Watch, blamed a research assistant whom he declined to name for the problems. 

The most recent paper to be retracted, in August of this year, was “Does thriving and trust in the leader explain the link between transformational leadership and innovative work behaviour? A cross-sectional survey.” It was originally published in the Journal of Research in Nursing in December of 2019 and has been cited 10 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science.

According to the retraction notice:

The above paper has been retracted due to unattributed overlap with material from other sources.

The unattributed excerpts in the article were taken from the following sources:

Jaiswal NK and Dhar RL (2017) The influence of servant leadership, trust in leader and thriving on employee creativity. Leadership & Organiszation Development Journal 38(1). DOI: 10.1108/LODJ-02-2015-0017

Boamah SA (2017) The Influence of Transformational Leadership on Nurse-reported Patient Safety Outcomes. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 4401. https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/4401

The first source was a study done by two researchers in the department of management studies at the Indian Institute of Technology. It has been cited 56 times. The second paper referenced was a dissertation completed by Sheila A. Boamah at the University of Western Ontario. Neither study appeared to be directly associated with the retracted paper or its authors.

The retraction notice stated that the retraction was made at the request of the journal editors and SAGE Publishing, the publisher of the Journal of Research in Nursing, but did not offer any specific explanation of the events that led to the retraction. SAGE Publishing acknowledged our email seeking comment but have not yet provided one. 

The other five retracted articles were published in the journal Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, two in 2019 and three in 2020. They have been cited a combined 146 times. They were all retracted last February. One study, “Perceived corporate social responsibility and innovative work behavior: The role of employee volunteerism and authenticity,” was retracted on February 9, while the others were retracted less than a week later, on February 14. 

Four of the retraction notices cited a manipulated peer review process as the reason for retraction.

According to the notice for “Perceived corporate social responsibility and innovative work behavior: The role of employee volunteerism and authenticity”:

The retraction has been agreed due to intentionally manipulated peer-review, inappropriately influenced by the authors or people undertaking work on behalf of the authors.

Neither Richard Welford, the editor in chief of the journal, nor any other editor of the journal responded to our emails. 

A fifth article, “Green human resource management and employees’ green creativity: The roles of green behavioral intention and individual green values,” was retracted due to plagiarism of an article under review by another journal, according to the retraction notice:

The retraction has been agreed due to unattributed overlap between this article and the following article under review with the Social Responsibility Journal: Ojo, Tan and Mazni SRJ-12-2019-0403.R3: Linking Green HRM practices to environmental performance through pro-environment behaviour in the Information Technology sector.

It is unclear how Asfar obtained the unpublished manuscript, but we have seen other cases in which plagiarists have admitted to stealing papers they were asked to peer review. The article referenced has since been published. It was written by researchers at the Multimedia University in Malaysia and the Auckland Institute of Studies in New Zealand and does not appear to be related in any way to the retracted paper or its authors. It has been cited 24 times.

In response to our email, the publisher Wiley provided the following statement: 

Wiley follows the guidelines established by the Committee on Publication Ethics and our own Best Practices for Research Integrity and Publishing Ethics. Our investigations provided evidence that peer review in some of the retracted articles was manipulated. In another case, the paper was retracted for unattributed overlap.

None of the editors or publishers of the journals answered our questions about how they discovered the plagiarism or manipulated peer review that led to the retractions. 

Afsar is the only common author on the retracted papers, and none of the co- authors have retractions in our database apart from those co-authored with Afsar.

In response to an email from Retraction Watch, Afsar blamed the retractions on a research assistant, who he did not name. None of the retracted papers include any acknowledgements section that might have included this person’s name. Afsar told us:

I would like to share with you that these retractions did not happen because of me. The retractions basically happened due to one of the research assistant who was responsible for handling editing, proofreading, and submission process. It is also mentioned in retraction notices that people doing it on behalf of authors are responsible for retraction. Basically these papers from different first authors as well as corresponding authors were being managed by same research assistant. Maybe our carelessness to not train the assistant in understanding research integrity cost us these papers which in itself is a big pain as all our efforts from conception till final writeup of these articles went in vain.

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4 thoughts on “‘A big pain’: Professor up to six retractions for plagiarism and manipulated peer review”

  1. This has to be one of the weirdest articles I’ve read here.

    Also, of course, it brings to mind Tom Leher’s song “Lobachevsky.”

  2. Interesting that the PI lays blame on the research assistant. Plagiarism does not magically occur because someone edits, proofreads or submits the paper for a PI. It occurs in the ahem, ‘writing’ of it by the authors – apparently in this case by the first author. I suggest that the ‘carelessness’ needs to be remediated by ‘training’ the PI in what constitutes acceptable scientific writing & sourcing of scientific materials…

  3. This will continue to happen until the journals clearly state the exact reason for retracting the articles. When a reviewer misuses his sole as a referee and publishes the text or idea of the under-reviewed manuscript under his name in another journal, why shouldn’t this person’s name be added to the blacklist of all journals, at least as a reviewer?

  4. So the author did not acknowledge the assistant for their work when they did it, only for their “mistake”? Maybe the author is the one that needs to be educated in integrity practices.

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