‘Mugged by stealth’: Team finds their paper has been plagiarized not once, but twice

Andrew Colman

In his career as a psychologist, Andrew Colman had only experienced being plagiarized once: In the early 1970s, an acquaintance tried to take credit in print for a psychometric scale that Colman had developed. Colman wrote to the journal, which quickly confirmed the plagiarism and printed a corrigendum in the next issue. 

And in the past year, Colman has learned of two more instances of his work – a 2004 paper on game theory in medical consultation – being stolen. He isn’t finding the journals so responsive this time around. 

For both recent cases, Colman, a professor of psychology at the University of Leicester in the UK, learned of the plagiarism from an undergraduate student researching her thesis. 

Alissa Bousselmi, who studies economics at the Fernuniversität in Hagen, Germany, found that a 2018 paper in IOSR Journal of Mathematics, “Application of Game Theory In Medical Consultation,” was nearly identical to an article Colman wrote with two colleagues, “Models of the medical consultation: opportunities and limitations of a game theory perspective,” for BMJ Quality and Safety in 2004. The original paper has been cited 27 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

On March 10th, Bousselmi emailed the journal that published the plagiarized version and included Colman. The next day, Colman emailed both IOSR Journal of Mathematics and a general email address for BMJ Quality and Safety, asking the editors of the journal to take action: 

First, I would appreciate your confirmation that our article has indeed been plagiarised. We are unsure as to how to pursue this issue, but it obviously cannot be allowed to stand, and we would appreciate guidance on how best to proceed. My co-authors have suggested that the BMJ Quality & Safety in Health Care or the BMJ itself might be willing or even anxious to pursue this with the University of Calcutta and to take steps to ensure that the plagiarizing article is withdrawn and a corrigendum published as soon as possible in the IOSR Journal of Mathematics.

Neither journal responded to him, so on March 28th, he emailed the vice chancellor and registrar of Amity University in Kolkata, India, where the author of the 2018 article, Abhijit Pandit, is an assistant professor. Colman wrote: 

Dr Pandit added the article to his own ORCID account manually in November 2020, so there is no possibility of it having been published under his name by mistake. For your convenience, I attach PDF copies of both articles to this email. I am writing to request that you persuade Dr Pandit to get in touch with the journal that published his apparently plagirizing article, namely IOSR Journal of Mathematics, as soon as possible, correcting the record as follows. (a) Dr Pandit’s article should be formally retracted by the IOSR Journal of Mathematics; (b) the IOSR Journal of Mathematics should publish a correction, explaining that his article was, in fact, written by my co-authors and me and published 14 years earlier and providing full bibliographic details of our original article as shown above, including its doi.

Neither official at Amity University responded to Colman, but when we emailed Pandit, he told us that he had written to the journal asking to withdraw his paper on March 29th. He didn’t respond to our follow-up asking if the withdrawal was in progress, and the paper doesn’t appear to be marked as retracted. 

We’ve only been able to find a general contact email for IOSR Journal of Mathematics, and haven’t heard back from our request for comment. (Update, 1500 UTC, 10/17/22: We received a response that the “Given IOSR paper will be deleted soon.”) 

As if the one instance of plagiarism for Colman and colleagues’ 2004 paper wasn’t enough, about a month ago, Bousselmi found another very similar article, “Relevance of Game Theory Models in Medical Consultation: Special Reference to Decision Making,” published last year in the International Journal of Research in Engineering, Science and Management

Colman’s assessment: 

Saxena et al. (2021) is definitely plagiarized from our original 2004 article, but the plagiarism is not as blatant as Pandit’s (2018), because it is not copied word for word. The structure of the Saxena paper, and all the main ideas within it, seem to be copied straight from our 2004 article, in order, although they are reworded. Two noteworthy features of the Saxena article are (a) Figure 2 is obviously copied and pasted directly from our 2004 article, although the image, which I created, is presumably subject to copyright; and (b) In spite of all this, our original article is not even cited in Saxena et al.’s list of references: why not?

We emailed the journal and the corresponding author of the paper, Shubham Agarwal of the New Delhi Institute of Management in India, and didn’t hear back from either. The journal has this plagiarism policy on its website: 

Plagiarism Prior Publishing:

All the submitted manuscripts for publication are checked for plagiarism after submission. If plagiarism is detected in any stage of the article process, before or after acceptance, it will be informed to the author(s) to rewrite the content and cite the references wherever applicable.

How is plagiarism handled?

The manuscripts in which the plagiarism is detected are handled based on the extent of the plagiarism.

>5%-30% Plagiarism: The manuscript will be given an ID and the manuscript is processed for review.

>30%-50% Plagiarism: The manuscript will be given an ID and will be reviewed. However, the authors will be asked to revise the content while submitting the final manuscript.

>50% Plagiarism: The manuscript will be given an ID. However, it will be rejected without the review. The authors are advised to revise the manuscript and resubmit the manuscript.


By submitting Author(s) manuscript to the journal it is understood that it is an original manuscript and is unpublished work and is not under consideration elsewhere. Plagiarism, including duplicate publication of the author’s own work, in whole or in part without proper citation will not be accepted by the journal. Manuscripts submitted to the journal may be checked for originality using plagiarism checking software.

We’ve previously seen a different journal put in writing that up to 19% of a manuscript being plagiarized was permissible. 

The International Journal of Research in Engineering, Science and Management also has this statement on a page of “Ethical Guidelines”: 

The strength of a journal is often directly related to the strength of its ethics.

We emailed the institutional addresses of the co-editors of BMJ Quality and Safety, Bryony Dean Franklin of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust & UCL School of Pharmacy in London and Eric Thomas of UTHealth Houston’s McGovern Medical School in Texas. Thomas told us: 

Neither of us saw any prior correspondence about this. We are asking the BMJ group’s publication ethics team for advice about next steps. 

Commenting on the first instance of plagiarism that Bousselmi found in March, Colman told us: 

I was surprised and shocked by such a blatant theft of our work. It felt somehow like being mugged by stealth. The thought that this may be happening to others and going unpunished is disturbing, especially if it is tacitly encouraged or at least permitted by some journal editors and senior university administrators.

Bousselmi reflected: 

I really find it unfair, because as a student it is the first basic think you learn: to cite correctly the Author and the Paper. And they are consequences if you don’t take it seriously – you don’t get any degree.

She said she would report plagiarism she finds again, if she sees that journals take action. If she, as an undergraduate student, found the plagiarism of Colman’s work, she wondered, why didn’t the journals that published the stolen papers? 

Update, 1730 UTC, 10/25/22: A BMJ publishing spokesperson tells us:

In response to your query, we have followed our standard process and contacted the journals that have plagiarised our content to bring the allegations to their attention, and asked that they investigate and update us on the outcome.

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4 thoughts on “‘Mugged by stealth’: Team finds their paper has been plagiarized not once, but twice”

  1. Why no one noticed them except this undergraduate student???
    More experienced ones (graduate students and above) would not even look at papers from those journals. They (We) know reading those papers is a waste of time. When you look deep into a trash bin, you will find trash. I don’t think exposing these papers will do anything useful at all.

  2. Great job by this student Alissa Bousselmi. The publisher “IOSR journals” is a known predatory publisher. One red flag that this is a dubious player in scientific publishing is that they are included in the Beall’s list (https://beallslist.net ). This matter of plagiarism basically confirms the dubious character of this publisher and the lack of proper peer review. This is why they didn’t spot the plagiarism: they simply didn’t look for it. Welcome to the world of dodgy journals/publishers.
    PS. The other journal is not mentioned in the Beall’s list but looking at their website it basically ‘screams at you’: predatory!

    1. looking at their website it basically ‘screams at you’: predatory!

      Is it the absence of any Editorial Board that gives it away? The absence of any physical location or contact details?

  3. Both the IOSR Journal of Mathematics and the International Journal of Research in Engineering, Science, and Management (IJRESM) are positively identified predatory journals published in India. The first one (IOSR Journals), as Rob correctly points out, was on Beall’s List, and the second one (IJRESM) appears quite obvious as you could detect from one of its latest articles as follows; The abstract is just one sentence and the so-called “Keywords” includes 2 questions (is this not odd?). I wouldn’t look any further for the editorial board or the contact address of the publisher, etc.


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