Book retraction surfaces long-standing feud between South African academics

Kgothatso Shai

In October, a South African political scientist published a book on how scholars in Africa can improve their standing in the larger academic world. Three months later, after heated emails from several sources alleging ethics breaches, the publisher retracted the book.

The retraction notice, posted Jan. 12, 2024, states that UJ Press retracted and removed the book from its catalog “due to concerns arising from the publication.” Publisher Wilkus van Zyl told us the press had asked the peer reviewers of the manuscript to re-examine the volume with an additional set of questions after they received emails questioning the work’s legitimacy. The reviewers determined the book lacked scholarly rigor and contained “inappropriate criticisms that appear to be based on personal grievances rather than legitimate scholarly discourse.” 

The retraction is the latest bout in a years-long quarrel between two feuding academics. Kgothatso Shai is a professor at the University of Limpopo, who writes about African politics and international relations. Several chapters of his book, “An Afrocentric Idea on Contested Knowledge: Selected Cases,” critiqued Facebook posts from Shepherd Mpofu, a media studies professor at the University of South Africa in Pretoria. Over the last few years, Mpofu has routinely criticized Shai’s works as “pathetic scholarship” in Facebook posts seen by Retraction Watch.

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Journals going rogue, authors beware

Pleading emails requesting papers are regular visitors to one’s inbox. These unsolicited and flattering requests promise rapid publication and tempt authors to part with their work. Even master’s and doctoral students, after graduation, receive sweet-talking requests to publish their dissertations as a book, a book chapter, or as a paper. Predatory journals and publishers are easy to spot and ignore at these low ends.

The danger lies with well-established and efficient predatory publishers. These ‘efficient’ publishers hide in the open on allowlists, such as South Africa’s Department of Higher Education and Training (DHETs) list of approved journals, and reputable indices such as Scopus and the WoS. They embellish their websites with claims of peer review and even state that they comply with requirements set by the Committee on Publication Ethics. Their websites tick all the boxes, providing a strong veneer of an authentic scholarly journal. 

One of my colleagues alerted me to a suspected predatory publisher. I looked into the case and thought it sensible to share my results, with the hope of sensitising postgraduate students and fellow authors.

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Article retracted after critics say it has “racist ideological underpinnings”

A psychology journal has retracted a controversial article about mental ability in South African women after a petition calling on the publication to withdraw the paper generated more than 5,000 signatures.  

The paper, “Age- and education-related effects on cognitive functioning in Colored South African women,” was published in Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition in March. It quickly drew attention, and outrage, from critics who objected to what they called racist overtones in the work, from the title on down.

According to the abstract:

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Journal flags paper over allegations it used competitors’ text, plasmids

MGGA journal has issued an expression of concern (EOC) for a paper on a common crop virus after the authors were accused of using competitors’ unpublished text and plasmids.

Investigations by the journal and the involved institutions — the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, where the paper’s authors are based, and North Carolina State University (presumably, where the accusing group is from) — were inconclusive, the notice states.

So the editor flagged “Sequences enhancing cassava mosaic disease symptoms occur in the cassava genome and are associated with South African cassava mosaic virus infection” with an EOC:

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Authors retract abstract following misconduct by diabetes biotech

1Earlier this year, authors retracted a meeting abstract about a diabetes drug, following the revelation that the biotech that funded the trial committed misconduct.

The retraction was initiated by corresponding author Itamar Raz, at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel. The journal didn’t receive a response from any co-authors who were affiliated with the biotech company, Andromeda, so they were not included in the retraction process.

A few months after Hyperion Therapeutics acquired Andromeda’s diabetes drug DiaPep277, Hyperion announced it had evidence that some employees of Andromeda had “engaged in serious misconduct,” such as using un-blinded data and manipulating the analyses. Two relevant studies on the drug, designed to block the immune response that leads to type 1 diabetes, were retracted last year.

Here’s the retraction note for the abstract “Abstracts of the 50th Annual Meeting of the EASD, Vienna 2014. ‘Evaluation of DiaPep277® treatment in type 1 diabetes by integrated analysis,’” published in the May issue of the journal:

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Entrepreneur ranking retracted for not being “inclusive enough”


This is a first for us — a publication that covers start-ups in South Africa has retracted a list of 13 rising tech entrepreneurs for not being “inclusive enough.”

Lists are a staple of popular media, so much so that they’ve earned their own word: listicle. But we’ve never seen one get retracted before. We weren’t sure what metric of inclusion the retraction was referring to, but looking at an archive of the webpage, where the listicle appeared before the publication was taken down, we saw that every person on the list appears to be a man, and almost all of them white.

We asked Stuart Thomas, Senior Reporter at Memeburn — which published the list with a related publication, Ventureburn — if this was what the publication meant by not “inclusive enough:”

It was a factor, yes.

Here’s the note for “Digital All Stars 2015: 13 South African tech entrepreneurs on the rise:”  Continue reading Entrepreneur ranking retracted for not being “inclusive enough”

Defamation concerns prompt theology journal to pull paper

HTS Teologiese Studies:Theological StudiesThe editor-in-chief of a theology journal has retracted a paper on South African Christian groups because of “unsubstantiated statements with potential defamation of character.”

The article, published in 2007 in HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, discusses “demanding Christian religious movements” where the group “isolates itself from the outside world,” and leaders influence their followers to “commit to the high demands of the group under the guise that this is the will and purpose of God,” according to the paper.

The author calls out several groups and leaders by name:

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Paper cited by New York Times for key stat gets retracted

the-new-york-times-logoA paper that had served as the key aspect of an April New York Times article about a recent surge of violence against immigrants in South Africa has since been retracted for plagiarism.

The research, which appeared in the Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, had served as the source of the newspaper’s statement that the country is “home to about five million immigrants.” That figure was later quoted in other media outlets about the issue.

However, a 2011 census put the number closer to 2.2 million immigrants, according to the non-profit fact-checking organization Africa Check. After issuing a report about the discrepancy, which also quotes experts who say the numbers are unlikely to have doubled by 2015, Africa Check contacted the Times. As Africa Check reports:

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Misidentified genetic sequence causes retraction of pathogen paper one month after publication

Genome Announcements

The author of an article mapping the genome of an infectious bacterium is pulling the paper because — well, it wasn’t the bacterium she thought it was.

Study author Celia Abolnik is retracting her paper in Genome Announcements because it didn’t actually map out the DNA of Mycoplasma meleagridis, a bacterium that typically infects turkeys but has recently been found in chickens.

The trouble was, the sequence for Mycoplasma meleagridis in the National Institute of Health’s DNA database, Genbank, was actually a different variety of bacteria — Mycoplasma gallinaceum, another scourge of poultry.

Here’s the notice for “Complete Genome Sequence of Mycoplasma meleagridis, a Possible Emerging Pathogen in Chickens:”

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Widely covered editorial extolling importance of diet over exercise “temporarily removed”

Source: NIH
Source: NIH

The British Journal of Sports Medicine has “temporarily removed” an editorial arguing that physical activity alone will not cure the obesity epidemic, following an expression of concern.

In its place stands the following message:

This paper has been temporarily removed following an expression of concern.

First author Assem Malhotra, based at the Department of Cardiology, Frimley Park Hospital and Consultant Clinical Associate to the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, told us the paper was pulled due to a “technical issue,” and an “official explanation” would be forthcoming.

Indeed, just this morning, we received a statement from Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal, which publishes the British Journal of Sports Medicine:

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