Wiley reopens plagiarism case about dead researcher’s work

Zulfiqar Habib, dean of computer science at COMSATS University Islamabad, in Pakistan, was appalled when he discovered part of a former PhD student’s dissertation had been published in a scientific journal.

After all, the former student, Kurshid Asghar, had been dead for more than a year by the time the manuscript was submitted to Security and Communication Networks, a Hindawi title. And Habib knew none of Asghar’s coauthors had contributed to the research, which Habib had supervised. 

“It was both shocking and unbelievable,” he told Retraction Watch.

Habib decided to share his concerns with Roberto Di Pietro, chief editor of Security and Communication Networks, in which the paper had appeared in September 2021. What followed was a strange and opaque investigation, which Wiley, Hindawi’s parent company, now says had “some limitations” and is being revisited following Retraction Watch’s inquiry.

In a December 2021 email to Di Pietro, Habib wrote:

May I have your attention on a very serious issue about academic fraud. A group of people has illegally published a research paper in your esteemed journal by stealing a chapter of PhD thesis … This paper is copied from Chapter 6 of PhD Thesis of Dr. Khurshid Asghar after his death without the consent and knowledge of his PhD supervisor (Dr. Zulfiqar Habib) and co-supervisor (Dr. Muhammad Hussain).

A research integrity specialist at Hindawi wrote back to inform Habib that, according to the authors, Asghar had shared his work with them:

And while Dr Asghar wrote the original draft, they contributed to the article by editing this original draft with Dr Asghar prior to submission and then answering the reviewers comments.

The authors were willing to add Habib to the author list, the Hindawi specialist said. But Habib demurred. Instead, he asked to see “documentary evidence” proving the authors weren’t just trying to “hide academic fraud and justify plagiarism.” 

In subsequent emails, the specialist told Habib the authors had submitted documentation for their claims but Habib couldn’t see it:

… as you are not conducting an official investigation into this allegation of research misconduct, we cannot share the evidence provided by the authors with you without the consent of all parties. We cannot obtain Dr Asghar’s consent and he is a party within the documentation provided.

Di Pietro chimed in to note that he found Zulfiqar’s point of view “quite reasonable” and suggested starting “an appropriate level of investigation.” 

But in June 2022, Hindawi shut down the case. As the research integrity specialist wrote in an email to Habib:

We have received notification that you have contacted COMSATS University Islamabad to request a formal investigation into the authorship of the article:

Muhammad Hameed Siddiqi, Khurshed Asghar, Umar Draz, Amjad Ali, Madallah Alruwaili, Yousef Alhwaiti, Saad Alanazi, M. M. Kamruzzaman, “Image Splicing-Based Forgery Detection Using Discrete Wavelet Transform and Edge Weighted Local Binary Patterns”, Security and Communication Networks, vol. 2021, Article ID 4270776, 10 pages, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1155/2021/4270776

We have received the report from the committee formed to investigate this issue in which it was found that the article by Siddiqi et al. did not plagiarise other works. Given the outcome of the investigation, we are now closing this complaint.

COMSATS University Islamabad did not reply to requests for comment. Nor did Muhammad Hameed Siddiqi, the paper’s first author, nor Umar Draz, its corresponding author. 

But in an email, a spokesperson for Wiley told us:

We are aware of some limitations with the initial investigation and have re-opened the case. We will be reaching out to the parties involved to outline next steps and to ensure that an appropriate outcome is reached as promptly as possible.

They later added:

We revisited the case as a result of this inquiry, and have decided to reopen it.

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