My subeditor handling this case told me he had found similarities with the protocol of a paper published elsewhere. The subeditor decided to send the paper for review to one of the authors of this published paper. The reviewer reported that the manuscript had the same figures and conclusions as a second paper he had published. All figures and the conclusions of the manuscript were the same as the second published paper. The reviewer also noted that most of the data were the same or had been only slightly changed and the text in the materials and methods section was also mostly identical. The reviewer asked me as editor to inform the first author’s institution asking for an in-depth investigation of this case of scientific fraud. The reviewer also said that he would inform the director of his own institute about this case of unethical behaviour.
This paper was first submitted to my journal in February 2010 and rejected on initial review by a different subeditor because it was missing many references and was incomplete.
I could not find any other papers written by the other authors on the paper so I’m assuming they were probably students, with the last author the professor. It is not clear to me if the paper was submitted with the approval of all authors as this was not stated in the covering letter.
The advice from the Forum was to follow the flowchart on ‘Suspected plagiarism in a published article’. In the first instance, the editor should contact the corresponding author and ask for an explanation. If there is no response the editor should try to contact all of the other authors. If the response is unsatisfactory, the editor should consider informing the author’s institution and asking them to investigate the case. The editor should inform the authors that this is the course of action that he is pursuing. The Forum noted that it is very important to give the author a deadline for response, and most considered a month a reasonable length of time. The editor might also consider posting a registered letter to the author if there is no response to emails.
On 18 June the editor sent an email to all of the authors informing them that we were concerned about a possible case of plagiarism and asking the authors to provide an explanation. A deadline of 2 weeks was offered and we informed them that we would contact the universities involved after this date. The corresponding author replied that he was not aware of this manuscript and he believed someone has used his name to submit the manuscript. However, one of the authors replied that he was not aware that the data were plagiarised and he offered to help in this case. He provided a number of pieces of evidence confirming the identity of the corresponding author. The Dean of the University where the corresponding author is working was informed about the situation on 10 July, followed by a second email on 29 July. The Dean finally acknowledged receipt of our letter on 1 August saying he will investigate the case. The editor sent a follow-up email on 25 August and the Dean immediately replied that the case is now under investigation.