Retraction? No problem just send it to Frontiers!

A while ago I documented some data problems in a JBC paper, including a failed attempt by the authors to correct the paper, followed ultimately by its retraction.

Well, guess what showed up at Frontiers this week… the exact same paper. The title is almost the same, huge blocks of the text are the same, and the majority of the data and figures (minus the mistakes during figure preparation) are the same. Without making any comments on the reliability of the data in the new paper, which I haven’t examined in detail yet, the following questions come to mind….

  • Did the editors at Frontiers know the paper had been retracted from another journal?  If so (or not), how would this have influenced the peer review process?
  • The authors listed on the retracted paper and the new one are identical. I don’t know how other people run their labs, but if my lab had a paper retracted for questionable data integrity, the person responsible for those problems would be out the door faster than you can say “Committee on Publication Ethics”. Keeping the same authors suggests that either Dr. Donmez is an extremely forgiving employer and chose not to fire the subordinate responsible for this mess, or that she was personally responsible for the problem data so there is no subordinate to fire.**
  • What about copyright? The original version of the paper is still up at the JBC site for all the world to see. Does Frontiers have the right to publish the same information, in clear in breach of JBC’s copyright?  How does copyright work on a retracted paper?
  • How should episodes such as this inform how we deal with retracted papers in the future?

Regarding the last point, perhaps a good starting point would be a check-box on the intake form for journals, stating whether the work is a republication of a previously retracted work. Perhaps such papers could then be accompanied by a statement with assurances that the original data have been scrutinized to ensure their integrity.

** I’ve run into this problem before – seeing a paper in the review stages with creative data presentation, and then seeing it appear elsewhere with the exact same list of authors. How many more papers are out there, where authors dodged a bullet in the review stages but made it to press somewhere else?

UPDATE (4pm 9/2/2014) – I just learned via PubPeer that a paper from Rui Curi (favorite South American dood who threatened to sue me) was re-published in an open access journal OmicsOnline, which is on Beall’s list of predatory (pay-4-glam) journals. Incidentally, the original paper was in J Lipid Res, also an ASBMB journal (like JBC), and so the original full-text is still up there on the JLR website. Again, the copyright question arises – does omicsonline own the paper now?  Has anyone done an analysis to see how much of the content of these new predatory open access journals is comprised of stuff retracted from other places?

UPDATE 2 (9am 9/3/2014) – Following an email last night, I have now heard back from the Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience EiC, Gemma Casadesus Smith. They were “unaware of this issue and will look closely into it”.  Hopefully that’s not a euphemism for try to forget about it until all washes over, as frequently seems to happen at other journals.  Now we play the waiting game…