Protein journal retracts mystery paper that plagiarized phantom article
Protein & Peptide Letters, a Bentham title, has retracted a paper for plagiarism, but it’s the unhelpful — bordering on insulting — notice that caught our eye.
The abstract for the notice, the rest of which sits behind a $63.10 (plus tax) pay wall on Ingenta Connect, reads:
As per Bentham Science’s policy, the following article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief and its Authors published in `Protein & Peptide Letters“ due to their use of text obtained from another paper published in the Biochemical Journal.
Oh, my. Where to begin…
For starters, it would be nice to know which article, in fact, the journal is retracting. A good bit of hunting led us to this one: “Zebrafish caspase-3: molecular cloning, characterization, crystallization and phylogenetic analysis,” published in 2004 by a group from the IILM Academy of Higher Learning in India listed as Chakraborty, Chiranjib; S. Nandi, Shyam; Sinha, Surajit; K. Gera, V.
The Biochemical Journal is not a Bentham pub, belonging instead to Portland Press. We could find no citations in the BJ for the members of the research team, so we’re assuming that the article from which they picked up the text did not come from them. Again, however, since that paper is not identified, we’re simply assuming.
Finally, maybe we’re reading too much into something inscrutable, but the notice seems to have a whiff of petulance, what with its “As per Bentham Science’s policy …” It’s true that the editor-in-chief is mentioned, but the statement almost appears to be saying, “If not for Bentham’s ridiculous policy about not authors not plagiarizing, we’d still have this paper on our CVs.” (A paper, we should note, that has only been cited 10 times in eight years, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.) The utter lack of transparency in the notice does nothing to reverse this impression.
We reached Ben Dunn, who edits PPL, with hopes of learning why the notice is so meager. They were dashed. On the other hand, our assumptions proved correct, which is something. The authors had indeed plagiarized “word for word at least a paragraph or more,” he said, a fact brought to his attention by the folks at Biochemical Journal and acknowledged by the corresponding author.
But why would the abstract fail to inform readers about the titles of the two articles — or, at the very least, the one being retracted?
Dunn, the distinguished professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Florida, wondered why we and his audience would care:
What is the advantage to your readers [of knowing all that]?
In fairness, some people might not feel the same way we do about the earth-shattering importance of this blog. Remember “it’s none of your damn business?” So we tried to explain that perhaps scientists might appreciate being told, specifically, what articles in their field are no longer reliable. To which Dunn replied:
The name Chakraborty should be enough for you to do a search for that name and [the journal]. … The fact that we printed the retraction and that we identified the individuals and that the corresponding author agreed to a statement that he apologized — in my mind the fact that he did all that and we did what we were obligated to do by our standards, I think that’s enough.
The public needs to know that there are cases of scientific misconduct — this clearly was a case of that – and they need to know that some journals are paying attention to this. But how much is added to the public by dragging all this up?
In other words: LMGTFY.