Professional Publishing and Academic Standards: A Low Water Mark?

January 20, 2022

Ah, professional publishing in action. Retraction Watch reports, “‘This is Really Ridiculous’: An Author Admitted Plagiarism. His Supervisor Asked for a Retraction. The Publisher said, ‘nah.’” We wish we were surprised by an academic journal’s disinterest in veracity. The write-up largely consist of excerpts from emails between the submitting author, his supervising professor, the co-authors he admitted to plagiarizing from, and editors at the journal (IEEE Access). In setting up those quotations, the article explains:

“Behrouz Pourghebleh is perplexed. And also exasperated. Pourghebleh, of the Young Researchers and Elite Club at the Urmia branch of Islamic Azad University in Iran, noticed a paper published on December 15, 2020 in an IEEE journal that overlapped 80 percent with an article he’d co-authored the year before. Pourghebleh wrote to Zakirul Alam Bhuiyan, the associate editor who had handled the paper, on December 31, 2020, expressing concern. Bhuiyan responded the same day, saying the paper hadn’t been flagged in a similarity check, and that he would contact the authors for a response. The first author, Karim Alinani, wrote to Pourghebleh less than two weeks later, admitting the plagiarism but citing personal circumstances.”

Those personal circumstances are heartbreaking, to be sure, and the consequences editor Bhuiyan notes can befall those called out for plagiarism are indeed ruinous. Given the potential aftermath, Bhuiyan pleaded with Pourghebleh, can’t we just let this one slide? (That is a succinct paraphrase.) Both authors of the plagiarized paper strongly disagreed, but were willing to pursue a less disastrous route to retraction by appealing to Alinani’s postdoctoral supervisor. Even at the professor’s request, though, retraction was a no-go for the publication. The curious can navigate to the write-up for the details in that trail of email excerpts.

Despite our sympathy for Alinani, we think the time to consider consequences is before submitting a paper for publication. Or at least it should be. We agree with Pourghebleh when he called the journal’s outright refusal to retract the paper “really ridiculous.” Retraction Watch notes that the problematic paper has been cited at least once. We doubt that will be the last time.

Cynthia Murrell, January 20, 2021


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