So Sad It’s Funny: The Retraction Debacle Continues

You may remember my post called “A Retraction Here, A Retraction There. . .A Few Upsetting ‘Whats’ Before The ‘Why’”   (alluding to that Everett Dirksen quote, “”A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money”). In the context of scientific paper retractions , that post was specifically on cancer research, Today I broaden my reach. altering the phrase to, “a retraction of a scientific paper on cancer here, a retraction there. . .and pretty soon you’re talking about a real fiasco–for scientists, researchers, [and] clinicians. . .

Although it was upsetting to write the posts on the retractions, there was definitely a sick element of humor to the endeavor–much as there is in watching an absurdist play [although I was not laughing 90 minutes in to “Waiting for Godot,” I must admit; I was trying to make out the time. Some absurdity loses its wit after the first hour.].

So as a civic duty–and with a certain cynical element of amusement–I’ve kept somewhat abreast of the retractions, greatly aided by a watchdog site called “Retraction Watch” [hosted by our very own wordpress, no less].

The retraction narrative is more clever, witty, and innovative than that of practically any sitcom I’ve seen.

So today came one that, for sheer chutzpah and ‘are-you-kidding-me?’ value, I really had to pass along. You’ll find it at “Mighty molten powder researchers publish paper in journal twice, months apart,” and the very title should tell you why I just couldn’t help myself from chuckling, sad as the situation is.

I encourage you to head over there and read the post–it’s not long–but for those of you who aren’t clickers, the story goes like this, in a nutshell:

French researchers Renaud Metz, Céline Machado, Mourad Houabes, Julien Pansiot, Mazen Elkhatib, Ramón Puyane, and Mehrdad Hassanzadeh published a paper that must be utterly compelling to those who are enamoured with studies in the gas atomization process.

With the catchy title, “Nitrogen spray atomization of molten tin metal: Powder morphology characteristics” [I’ve gotten you the link, as an effort at community service. Feel free to read the entire paper. Then get back to me about whether you think it was worthy of publication–twice!], the abstract blurb reads [and I warn you that it ends with a real cliffhanger]:

The gas atomization process used for metal powder production has been studied using a low melting point metal: tin. The influence of two experimental atomization parameters (gas flow rate and gas pressure) and the possibility to preview the particle mean diameter with the Lubanska equation are investigated. The ability of spray processing to control and produce well defined metal powders with both the desired particle size range and shape is discussed.

So the authors published their paper in the January 2007 issue of the Journal of Materials Processing Technology [Impact Factor: 1.567] .

So far, so good, right?

Well, apparently both the researchers and journal thought it was a pretty great article. So great, in fact, that it seemed a pity to just do one go-round. I mean, maybe someone missed the powder morphology characteristics of molten tin metal–unlikely as that may be–and he’d really be missing out.

So. . . .[and here’s where we get to a level of absurdity that I myself, with my own absurdist tendencies, couldn’t even dream of]. . .

The researchers published it again. In the same journal. For real.

In May, of the same year, with two authors down, the paper was republished online in the JMPT, and, for good measure, came out in January 2008 in print. It had the same title.

The Retraction Watch post quotes the journal’s statement that accompanied the retraction, the gist of which is that it’s the authors’ faults. The statement clarifies–and this is awkward–that the paper is retracted because, well, here you go. . .

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors-in-Chief as it is a duplicate of a paper that has already been published in J. Mater. Process. Technol., 189 (2007) 132–137, doi:10.1016/j.jmatprotec.2007.01.014. One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that the paper is not under consideration for publication elsewhere. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. [emphasis mine]

Not to point fingers or anything–but wouldn’t you think a journal would also be responsible for knowing it had already published an article? The authors had to declare the paper wasn’t under consideration for publication elsewhere. Well, that declaration was true–it had been published in that self-same publication.

Really, it is so sad it’s funny–especially when you think of all the time and man-power and money that goes into research and publication.

But, I must admit–when I think I’ve heard just about every wacky thing there is to hear–from my patients, my kids, my friends, the news–along comes another retraction, just to keep me on my toes.

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