A paper was published in our journal. A reader contacted us and informed us that the whole of the introduction of the paper was copied directly from another publication. The editor-in-chief suggested retracting the paper immediately. However, the author insists on publishing a correction. They do not want to publish a retraction as this will affect their future career development.
Questions for the COPE Forum
(1) What can we do?
(2) Can we retract without the approval of the author? The author has threatened legal action if we retract.
The Forum agreed that this was a clear case of plagiarism, and as another journal was involved, there may also be copyright issues.
The Forum stressed that according to the COPE guidelines, an editor does not need the approval of the author to retract an article. If the editor feels there are grounds for retraction, he/she can retract the article without the author’s permission. In this case, half of the Forum favoured retracting the article, on the grounds of plagiarism and breach of copyright.
However, others argued that there are different degrees of plagiarism with different severities. Plagiarism can sometimes occur among authors whose first language is not English and who do not realise that plagiarism is unacceptable in this situation. In this case, the data are not corrupt and the plagiarism seems to have occurred solely in the introduction. If data were corrupt, the editor would be correct in reporting this to the author’s institution and retracting the author, irrespective of what the author thinks. But this case seems to be more of a mixture of naivety and lack of understanding of language on the part of the authors. Hence the advice was to publish a correction or expression of concern, and write a stern letter to the authors explaining that this type of behaviour is unacceptable.
Hence the Forum was evenly split between recommending retraction versus publishing a correction together with a firm rebuke to the authors. In the end, it is the editor’s decision, but the editor should inform all of the authors of what action he plans to undertake.
The journal withdrew the paper.