This is a report of two cases of possible misconduct by the same author(s): one that was identified during the review process and one only after it was published.
We believe the author tried to publish a paper that was a verbatim copy of one that had appeared in another journal a few years earlier. A vigilant reviewer of the “copied” paper alerted the editor that, on verifying the references, he had found that the paper was a carbon copy of an already published article. Having realised that the author and the same graduate student had already published a paper in our journal a year before, we took the time to search the literature for any IP violation from the first paper. We discovered that the paper already published in our journal was a verbatim (not a single word or graph changed) copy of another one.
Also, one of the two reviewers who accepted the first paper that was published in our journal was the author of the original paper from which it was copied. Did he accept it inadvertently, not recognising his own original publication, albeit after a few years? Was he in collusion because he was a friend or a compatriot “wanting to help”?
We then wrote to the authors informing them of the two discoveries and requesting an explanation, an apology or retraction, and notifying them that we may contact the University President about their unethical behaviour. The senior author withdrew the paper being currently reviewed but nothing else. We then wrote to his University’s President, only to discover a couple of weeks later, through a more thorough search, that he was indeed the University President.
We then wrote to the Ambassador (High Commissioner) of this person’s country, explaining the incident and the cloud of suspicion such behaviour (far from being isolated) would bring to science from their country. What we found particularly repulsive is how a professor can act like this, in collusion with graduate students. We received no response despite a reminder. We then decided to write to the President of that country directly, as he was known as an eminent mathematician. We got no response. Finally, we wrote to the President of the Maths Society of that country but again no response was received.
The first published paper was retracted from our journal and the guilty authors were named. We also informed 6–7 journals in our field not to accept any papers from this individual or his group.
I would be very curious to know what COPE would bring to cases like these (denunciation, banishment, penalties, general alert?).
The Forum congratulated the editor on his handling of the case and considered that this was a model way of proceeding under the circumstances. The Forum noted that it can be very disheartening to follow-up on these inquiries when no response is forthcoming. It was suggested that the editor could now mention the fact that he has brought the case to COPE - sometimes this elicits a response. The Forum wondered how the reviewer did not spot the plagiarism and suggested looking into the reviewer’s conduct. Another suggestion was to see if the author belongs to a society or association that the editor could lodge a complaint with. Other advice was to write an editorial in the journal highlighting the issue. This could be done anonymously and would demonstrate to the reader that the journal’s system is working and also that this type of misconduct will not be tolerated by the journal. The Forum also agreed that it would enhance the reputation of the journal. The Forum reiterated COPE’s general view that it doesn’t endorse sanctions against authors.