Journal Retracts Disputed Network Analysis Paper on Climate

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Eli Kintisch
2011-06-02 15:35
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On 15 May, USA Today reported that a controversial 2008 study in the journal Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA) was going to be retracted because parts of the article contain plagiarized material. Now, in an e-mail to ScienceInsider, the journal's editor in chief, Stan Azen of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, has passed along the official retraction notice. It says the article "contains portions of other authors' writings … without sufficient attribution" and that excerpts from Wikipedia and two textbooks appeared without citation in the paper's introduction. An official with Elsevier, which publishes CSDA, says the notice will be posted in a week or two.

The study, Social networks of author-co-author relationships, analyzed the different styles of such networks and their implications for peer review. It grew out of work done for a report to Congress by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University. The so-called Wegman report said that paleoclimate studies done in 1998 and 1999 used poor statistical analyses. It also asserted that the authors may have benefited from favorable treatment by their peers who presumably reviewed the papers.

The e-mail from Azen follows:

The following is the Elsevier retraction statement that will appear shortly.

Retraction notice

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor in Chief and co‑Editors, as it contain portions of other authors' writings on the same topic in other publications, without sufficient attribution to these earlier works being given.

The principal authors of the paper acknowledged that text from background sources was mistakenly used in the Introduction without proper reference to the original source.

Specifically, the first page and a half of the article (pp. 2177‑2178) contain together excerpts from Wikipedia (first paragraph), Wasserman and Faust's "Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications" (pp. 17‑20) ISBN 10: 0521387078 / 0‑521‑38707‑8 ISBN 13: 9780521387071 Publication Date: 1994, and W. de Nooy, A. Mrvar, and V. Bategelj's "Exploratory Social Network Analysis with Pajek" (pp. 31, 36, 123, and 133) ISBN 10: 0521602629 / 0‑521‑ 60262‑ ISBN 13: 9780521602624 Publication Date: 2005.

The scientific community takes a strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process. One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. The re‑use of material, without appropriate reference, even if not known to the authors at the time of submission, breaches our publishing policies.

The Wegman report is also alleged to contain unattributed material from other sources. University of Massachusetts, Amherst, climate scientist Raymond Bradley filed an official complaint with George Mason University in March 2010 for what he regards as inappropriate use of material that first appeared in his 1999 book, Paleoclimatology. "There were several paragraphs in the Wegman report that were lifted verbatim or almost verbatim from my book," Bradley tells ScienceInsider. Bradley has complained to Elsevier, which was the publisher of the 1999 book, and company officials have proposed a meeting to discuss the issue, he says. "Elsevier has a financial interest in people not plagiarizing their books," says Bradley. "Otherwise, why do they have a copyright?"

Wegman declined to comment on the journal's action when contacted by ScienceInsider last week. But Wegman wrote an e-mail to Elsevier, obtained by USA Today, that says he would prefer issuing an "errata sheet" instead of having the paper withdrawn. And USA Today spoke to Wegman's attorney for its May story on the journal retraction:

"Neither Dr. Wegman nor [first author Yasmin Said] has ever engaged in plagiarism," says their attorney, Milton Johns, by e-mail. In a March 16 e-mail to the journal, Wegman blamed a student who "had basically copied and pasted" from others' work into the 2006 congressional report, and said the text was lifted without acknowledgment and used in the journal study. "We would never knowingly publish plagiarized material" wrote Wegman, a former CSDA journal editor.

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