An article was published online (e-pub), and a reader notified the editor about a section of the abstract that was taken from a review article published in another journal by different authors. Subsequent analysis of the e-pub manuscript found sections plagiarised from additional articles, often with citations but not quotation marks. Some sections were from manuscripts previously published by the authors in question.
At least seven articles were used to compile the entire manuscript: one for the abstract, four for the introduction, one for the results and one for the discussion. Overall the data look original but sections of the text are obviously not and have been in the literature for at least 13 years (1996). The authors have not been contacted to date.
The COPE options for plagiarism are retraction and public admission. The grey area is how to treat the situation as the science does not appear to be flawed, only how it is presented as the big picture. While the case clearly involves plagiarism (true plagiarism, self-plagiarism and unquoted use of text), there is no way to ensure the science is fairly presented while the authors are reprimanded.
Accepting current e-publication status and future print publication of this manuscript as is, inadvertently declares that the publishing journal accepts partially plagiarised work; retraction limits the release of original science.
The editor told the Forum that the article is in the process of being retracted. The Forum emphasised the fact that, in this case, all authors should agree to the retraction, and the reason for the retraction must be stated. In this case, the editor is convinced that the data are not fraudulent. This must be stated in the retraction notice. Hence the retraction notice should say that the editor is satisfied that the data are not fraudulent but that the article contains plagiarised material. Repetition of the introduction or discussion sections of an article is less of an issue that repetition of the results section. The advice was to consult the COPE retraction guidelines, published on 1 December. The Forum advised the editor that you cannot rely too heavily on software that detects plagiarism. It has to be a judgement call on the part of the editor. Self-plagiarism can be a grey area—the author must cite previous papers otherwise there may be a breach of copyright. The Forum questioned whether the authors really understood that they need to re-write language in their own words—does the paper just need to be better edited? Other advice was to contact the author’s institution, informing them of the situation.
Most authors were contacted, with the exception of the first author. A retraction of the article was made initially, and a statement was generated according to the legal guidelines established by the publisher, and was agreed by the corresponding authors and editors. The authors were given the option to resubmit a rewritten manuscript using the same data as there was no evidence of fraud or plagiarism in the results. Upon resubmission of said re-written text, the sections initially highlighted as having been plagiarised were modified but additional, similar sections of plagiarism were detected elsewhere in the manuscript. The revised work was immediately rejected.