“A huge relief”: Journal takes down plagiarized paper after Retraction Watch reporting

Andrew Colman

Following a Retraction Watch story about a 2004 paper that had been copied twice since its publication, one of the journals involved has taken down its version of the article. 

Last month, we reported that an undergraduate student researching her thesis had found two papers that copied material from “Models of the medical consultation: opportunities and limitations of a game theory perspective,” published in BMJ Quality and Safety by psychologist Andrew Colman and two colleagues.

One of the plagiarizing articles, “Relevance of Game Theory Models in Medical Consultation: Special Reference to Decision Making,” appeared last year in the International Journal of Research in Engineering, Science and Management (IJRESM). Colman said that the article had copied the structure and main ideas of his, although the text was paraphrased, and it included a figure he had created. 

We had emailed the journal before our story was published on Oct. 17 to ask if it would investigate the allegations. We received this reply on November 5th: 

Thank you for the email.

We have verified and your claim is true. The authors have copied the figure. Which we could not check in the publication process.

As the authors have not cited the paper, as an immediate action, we are removing the paper from the website with immediate effect.

Indeed, the link to the IJRESM paper now shows a 404 error. The corresponding author of the paper has not responded to our request for comment. 

Colman told us: 

It is a huge relief to see what you have already achieved, in a short time, after many months during which I received no response whatever from anyone involved in this matter. I am pleased that IJRESM has now also decided to remove the plagiarized paper that they published, although the copied-and-pasted figure contained within it was hardly the worst aspect of that publication. 

The other plagiarized article, a 2018 paper in IOSR Journal of Mathematics titled “Application of Game Theory In Medical Consultation,” was a nearly identical copy of the original. Soon after our story’s publication, we received a reply to our email to the journal that said the “Given IOSR paper will be deleted soon,” but it appears to still be online and unmarked. 

Before our story was published, one of the co-editors of BMJ Quality and Safety told us that “neither of us saw any prior correspondence” about the plagiarism. Colman said he emailed the  general editorial contact address for the journal on March 11th but received no no reply. 

“We are asking the BMJ group’s publication ethics team for advice about next steps,” the editor added. 

The BMJ media team has now sent us a few additional statements. 

On October 25, more than a week after our post appeared, a spokesperson for the publisher told us that “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.” We duly updated our post. 

Another spokesperson emailed us on November 7th, “to follow up on the allegation that no response had been sent to the original concern raised in March.” She wrote: 

I know you have already written a piece for RW on this subject, so this may now be redundant, but to clarify: no evidence of any correspondence to the journal’s editorial office in respect of these plagiarism concerns has been found.

The research integrity team have contacted both the IJRESM and the IOSR Journal of Mathematics to alert them to the plagiarism concerns raised and asked them to investigate.

We replied with a copy of the email Colman had sent to “info.bmjqs@bmj.com,” the editorial office address listed on the journal’s contact page, asking why it could not be found. 

The spokesperson replied that the editorial office “was contacted about this correspondence once BMJ became aware of the plagiarism concerns from media reports last month.” She said: 

The editorial office confirmed that no trace of Prof Colman’s email could be found, meaning that it never reached the journal’s editors. Had it done so, they would have responded to him and acted on it.

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3 thoughts on ““A huge relief”: Journal takes down plagiarized paper after Retraction Watch reporting”

  1. Perhaps a public database should be started on plagiarized papers that have not been retracted – with a counter, where time ticks away since the original complaint to the publisher about the stolen work. There could be a leader board – the top entries are the ones with the longest time sitting on issuing the retraction? Perhaps outing journals for not retracting plagiarized manuscripts might help some journals clean up their act. It is a pity that we have to resort to public shaming to potentially get this to happen…

  2. Congratulations on finding the articles and getting a quick retraction, but removing the article as if it were never published, and providing no retraction notice, isn’t how it should be done. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) provides instructions on why and how to retract, eg, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802086/, including: “Retracted articles should not be removed from printed copies of the journal (eg, in libraries) nor from electronic archives but their retracted status should be indicated as clearly as possible.”

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