Nineteen members of the editorial board at Scientific Reports, an academic journal published by Nature, resigned in protest on Tuesday after the journal declined to retract an article accused of plagiarism, blog Retraction Watch reported. The article in question was written by three Chinese researchers at the Harbin Institute of Technology’s Shenzhen Graduate School. One of the authors, Liu Bin, is also on the journal’s editorial board.
Liu told Sixth Tone on Friday that he has no comment on the resignations. “It’s their personal choice,” he said.
Published in March last year, the paper discusses recombination spot identification for DNA study using a method that the authors named “SVM-gkm.” Michael Beer, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, wrote to the journal in April 2016 saying that he felt the paper plagiarized his own research published in 2014, which introduced a similar method he had named “gkm-SVM.”
Beer claimed that the later paper used the same algorithm he designed without properly recognizing his work. “This paper should be retracted based on the unauthorized reuse of figures, equation images, extensive text, and fraudulent claims of novelty,” he wrote in his letter. Beer also called for Liu’s resignation from the Scientific Reports editorial board.
The journal investigated the allegations and issued a corrigendum in December 2016, in which the authors apologized for “failing to give due credit” to Beer, reworded their abstract to acknowledge him, and corrected several errors in equations. But Beer was not satisfied, telling Retraction Watch that the decision suggested plagiarism was acceptable and could simply be smoothed over with revisions if detected.
Scientific Reports’ managing editor, Richard White, has stood by Liu et al.’s article. In a Monday email that Retraction Watch reports was sent to the researchers who had threatened to resign, White wrote: “We believe that the paper makes an original contribution to the literature in that it takes existing methodology and applies it to a new question or issue, in this case applying the algorithm developed by Michael Beer to recombination.”
Liu told Sixth Tone that he had nothing to add to White’s response. All but two of those who resigned from the editorial board are researchers at Beer’s institution, Johns Hopkins University.
According to the Scientific Reports website, the journal’s editorial board is composed of experts from 41 fields, and is tasked with managing the peer review process and taking “final decisions on whether papers should be accepted.”
China has been a prolific source of published research in the biological sciences in recent years, but questions of academic misconduct have come up regularly. In April, another journal, Tumor Biology, retracted 107 papers, mostly by Chinese authors, after finding the peer review process had been compromised. Two months later, the Chinese government suspended grant funding for the researchers involved as penalty.
Editor: Qian Jinghua.
(Header image: Vetta/VCG)