Two years ago, an author asked a journal to withdraw a paper. It still hasn’t.

In November of 2020, an economics professor wrote to the editor-in-chief of a journal with two requests: remove his name from an online paper on which he was the corresponding author, and retract the article. 

More than two years later, neither of those things has happened. 

Instead, the article, “Outward foreign direct investment and economic growth in Romania: Evidence from non-linear ARDL approach,” which appeared in August  2020 in the International Journal of Finance and Economics, was included in the January 2022 issue of the journal. It has been cited 10 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

A scholar who was involved in the work but left off the paper has provided evidence, seen by Retraction Watch, that the published article contains falsified data. Two of the paper’s authors also have had another article they co-authored together retracted. 

The authors of the paper are listed as Azka Amin, an assistant professor of business administration at Iqra University in Pakistan, Sofia Anwar, a professor of economics and management sciences at Government College and University in Pakistan, and Xi-Hua Liu, a professor of economics at Qingdao University in China. 

On Nov. 30, 2020, Liu, the corresponding author on the work, emailed  Michael P. Dooley, then the top editor of the journal, requesting retraction. In the email, which we obtained, he wrote:

I am writing this mail in a great hour of difficulty I would like to grab your attention toward a very sensitive issue. First of all, I request you to remove my name from “Outward foreign direct investment and economic growth in Romania: Evidence from non-linear ARDL approach, Int J Fin Econ, (2020), https://doi.org/10.1002ljfe.2173” published recently on dated “6 July, 2020.”

Now I would like to explain the reasons for requesting the withdraw. The reason behind is that its first author Azka Amin and her classmate (a student named Usman Ali student of the Dalian University of Technology) disputed the ownership of this paper. I cannot actually judge their respective contributions to this paper. However, from their emails we should be able to judge that Usman Ali made an important academic contribution. More importantly, I did not even know about the paper that Azka Amin submitted to your journal, and I did not even know about listing me as the corresponding author.

Based on the above facts, I would like to request you to remove my name from the paper. In addition, I hope you will carefully consider Azka Amin’s academic ethics and withdraw this paper.

Ali, a postdoctoral fellow at Dalian University of Technology in China, told us that, in addition to not including him as an author, the study included “fabricated data and results.” 

According to Ali, the research detailed in the paper was a collaboration between him, Amin, and Liu. The paper was originally submitted to the Romanian Journal of Economic Forecasting, but the journal rejected it, which Ali said he was unaware of at the time. 

Ali discovered in September 2020 that the paper had been published without his knowledge. His name was left off the author list, and another author, Anwar, who Ali said was not involved in the research, was added. 

Ali said he asked Amin to withdraw the paper, but instead, she requested that the journal add an author to the paper, according to emails seen by Retraction Watch. Ali said Amin did so without his consent.  But Ali said he told her he did not want his name added to the paper because some of its results had been changed from the original and were “bogus.” In any case, Ali said the journal never reached out to him about adding his name to the paper. 

Ali also provided documents that he said show that data from the original, rejected manuscript were changed in the published study. For example, the published paper stated that its data cover the years between 1990 and 2019, but a screen capture of what Ali said was the original dataset seems to show a time period of 1990 to 2017. The original manuscript submitted to the Romanian Journal of Economic Forecasting, which Ali also included, indicated the data were from 1990-2017, as well. 

Yet the results in the published paper “are exactly the same as those in the original manuscript,” Ali wrote, “with some exceptions of the fabricated results.” Specifically, Ali said some standard error values and p values were changed from positive to negative, and he included screen captures as corroboration.

In 2021, a paper on which Liu and Amin were both authors was retracted from the journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research, because “an investigation by the Academic Committee of the School of Economics of Qingdao University established significantly overlaps with an unpublished manuscript by different authors,” according to the retraction note.

Amin, Anwar, and Liu did not respond to emails from Retraction Watch. 

We don’t know if the journal ever responded to Liu. His name still appears as corresponding author on the online article, which has not been retracted or marked with any sort of editor’s note. 

Keith Pilbeam, the current editor-in-chief, told us the matter was still under investigation:

This paper was published in the International Journal of Finance and Economics prior to the new editorial board taking over in November 2021. However, it is currently under investigation by Wiley Integrity in Publishing Group and as far as I know is currently being actively investigated so that a decision can be made on what to do in regards to this article.

A spokesperson for Wiley, the journal’s publisher, responded to a follow-up email, saying:

We have been actively investigating this article in accordance with COPE guidelines. The concerns shared here were not previously known to Wiley and will now be addressed as part of the ongoing investigation.

Neither Wiley nor Pilbeam answered questions from Retraction Watch about the reason for the years-long delay in retracting the study or why the journal has not added an indication of its investigation, such as an expression of concern, to the study.

Ali told us that trying to get the study retracted has been “a difficult and stressful experience”: 

It is particularly concerning and disappointing when the journal chooses to publish a paper in a regular Issue despite having been informed of the serious ethical problems beforehand. I think it is a disregard for ethical considerations and a failure to take responsibility for the potential harm that may result from the publication of such research.

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