Mass Resignation from Scientific Reports’s Editorial Board

Nineteen researchers have stepped down after the journal decided not to retract a paper that they say plagiarized the work of a Johns Hopkins biomedical scientist.

By Catherine Offord | November 7, 2017

ISTOCK, SPRNG23Update (March 20): Scientific Reports retracted the 2016 study today. It has been cited 17 times since its publication. In a statement to Retraction Watch, the journal acknowledged that “the correction made following the initial review was insufficient and inadequate,” and noted that editorial staff would receive further guidance on “handling allegations of plagiarism.”

Nearly 20 researchers, most of whom are based at Johns Hopkins University, have resigned from the editorial board of Scientific Reports following a dispute about an allegedly plagiarized study published by the journal in 2016, Retraction Watch reports today (November 7). The resignations follow months of back-and-forth between the journal and members of its editorial board, culminating in an email sent yesterday by managing editor Richard White notifying the researchers that “we do not think retraction is warranted” for the disputed study.

“I resigned as soon as I learned that Scientific Reports elected not to retract the paper,” Ted Dawson, a Johns Hopkins neurobiologist, writes in an email to Retraction Watch. “It seems Scientific Reports has a unique publication policy—‘If you are caught plagiarizing someone else’s work in Scientific Reports, all you need to do is apologize and publish a corrigendum.’  I don’t think this is something the community should support or we are condoning this behavior.”

The study in question—a paper authored by a research group in China that describes a method to identify regulatory DNA sequences—came under fire shortly after it was published. Johns Hopkins biomedical scientist Michael Beer claimed that the authors had plagiarized his work, essentially copying large sections of a paper his group published in PLOS Computational Biology in 2014.

The dispute escalated when White declined to retract the paper in late 2016, writing to Beer that although the authors’ claims to novelty were “overstated . . . the inaccuracies and ambiguities in the paper do not warrant its retraction, but we will publish a corrigendum.” The journal has posted a correction to provide more credit to other Beer and his colleagues.

Since then, Retraction Watch reported earlier this year, researchers from Johns Hopkins have been resigning in protest from the journal’s editorial board, which numbers in the thousands of researchers.

The latest wave of resignations is part of a response coordinated by Hopkins researcher Steven Salzberg, who became involved after hearing about the issue from Beer. As of today, 19 researchers—17 from Johns Hopkins—have now stepped down.

“We are very disappointed by [the journal’s] decision,” wrote Salzberg in an email sent to White, cosigned by other researchers invested in the dispute. “You have decided to reward plagiarism by allowing the authors to make a few minor revisions, and keep their paper in the literature. When a student plagiarizes, we don’t give him a chance to revise and resubmit: we give him a failing grade and sometimes take even stronger disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion. Your journal is thus setting a very poor example.”

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Avatar of: dmarciani


Posts: 68

November 7, 2017

While I agree that rewarding plagiarism is not what scientific journals should do, the damage caused is minimal when compared to erroneous articles published in reputable scientific journals. Articles that the journals’ editorial staff frequently believes that it is their sacred duty to defend, like modern crusaders of science. Of course, the damage caused by those policies is tremendously more damaging than somebody showing his/her immaturity decides to copy somebody else work. While of little consolation, perhaps we should remember Oscar Wilde’s expression that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”

November 8, 2017

Such concerted action is needed when editors condone  plagiarization, a totally unacceptable practice. Let us congratulate the resigned researchers based at John Hopkins University for upholding high ethical principles

Avatar of: JMinCA


Posts: 10

Replied to a comment from dmarciani made on November 7, 2017

November 8, 2017

I disagree that plagiarism causes less damage than "erroneous articles published in reputable scientific journals".  The original study has already been through peer review, so it is unlikely that the plagiarized study will not be accepted for publication if the plagiarism is not noticed.  This is not immaturity--it's greed. It gives publication credit to someone who doesn't deserve it.  It also adds more unneeded noise to the literature, since there are some authors that do a poor job of vetting citations for the journal articles that will be written after the plagiarized work is published.

As for erroneous articles, in my experience the scientific field usually self-corrects.  There have been high-profile papers that have eventually been retracted when the work couldn't be replicated.  Could more be done to correct erroneous articles?  Absolutely.  But plagiarism and fraudulent science intended to deceive are both scientific fraud, and should be treated as such.  The journals should retract the work.  


Avatar of: Pyshnov


Posts: 5

November 9, 2017

I tried to get a paper retracted for plagiarism. But the editor said that my university investigation did not find plagiarism. Later, the governmental agency also did not find plagiarism. Now see what the investigation found:

Michael Pyshnov

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