The End of Waiting

(May 27th, 2016) In the current print issue, Lab Times reported on a serious case of plagiarism in the Journal of Biochemical Systematics and Ecology published by Elsevier. Now, after 14 months, the fraudulent paper is finally retracted.

In October 2014, Anindya Barman and colleagues published an article about the molecular identification and phylogeny of Channa species in the Indo-Myanmar region but, only few weeks later, Lukas Rüber, Ralf Britz and colleagues uncovered extensive cases of plagiarism, copied from multiple papers, some of which even published in the same journal.

The researchers originally detected the plagiarism back in February 2015, followed by a long battle to get the editor’s attention about this issue. In desperation, they turned to Lab Times with their story. With our article published and widely circulating in the scientific community, Ralf Britz ventured to contact Elsevier again. This time, unlike previous attempts, the action was fast and within two days the paper was officially retracted. To reinforce their decision, on the same day, Rüber and Britz also received a message directly from editor-in-chief Monique Simmonds to inform the researchers about Elsevier’s decision. At the end of this saga, the authors feel Lab Times played a small but important part to have this paper retracted. “I think it was really important to have this case exposed to the public”, says Rüber. “We strongly believe that without the Lab Times article things wouldn't have moved forward!”

The official retraction notice states the Barman paper “represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system” and apologises to the authors of two of the plagiarised papers and the readers in general for missing this case of plagiarism during the submission process. For Britz and Rüber, however, the notice falls a little short of what they were aiming for. Not only did Elsevier fail to recognise all five plagiarised papers, they also decided not to take into account the fact that Barman and colleagues attempted to pass novel results as their own by failing to cite specific papers. For the researchers, this should have been seen as fraud.

Nevertheless, the duo is glad to have finally received the message about the paper retraction and hope some lessons were learnt from this incident. Reminiscing about their case, Britz and Rüber mention just how frustrating it was to wait for something to happen. After months of failed attempts to get in touch with the editor, they tried to look for an alternative contact within Elsevier to report their situation but that also came to nothing. For the researchers, it’s imperative that Elsevier develop a more effective mechanism to deal with cases like this, as they are likely to increase in the future. “They need to monitor how long a case has been opened and raise a red flag once a certain amount of time has passed and then put that case on the top of the priority list”, suggests Rüber. “Also, they will have to rethink about their strategy of getting in touch with the authors. If the authors of an article do not respond to the allegations, what does that mean and what needs to be done? Just sit and wait certainly is not the solution”.

As a piece of advice for fellow researchers in the same situation, Rüber and Britz emphasise the need to keep going and never give up. “Get in touch with the editor-in-chief, the publisher, try it via social media (Twitter, Facebook), get in touch with science journalists, but most importantly don't give up”, concludes Rüber.

Alex Reis

Photo: Barman et al. Elsevier

Last Changes: 07.15.2016