2

(Edited with thanks after the early comments helped gauge the perception of the post.)

This is the situation

I came across an article published in a reputable journal in the field of physics and engineering science.

  1. The first author of this article is a member of the editorial board.
  2. A handful of other co-authors follows. They are also affiliated to serious education establishments and hold positions with some standing.
  3. Author and co-authors are associated by a grand research project. This lets me think that this article attracts and will attract attention for a while, at a minimum via legit self-citations.
  4. Parts of the article had been copied and pasted, or slightly edited, from grey literature related to the same research project.
  5. One of these parts is relevant for understanding the inner workings of their research outcome and, pragmatically, comparing my work and theirs. But

    • some terminology is plainly wrong (apples-for-pears)
    • some terminology is subtly wrong (community-bound misnomers)
    • some formulas lack
    • the references do not contain information integrating these lacunas

    Therefore, it is impossible for me to verify the work they did and take at face value some claims of the article relevant for my investigation.

  6. I have reached out to the research team
    • first asking for additional information (I had started my study from the item of grey literature of point 4)
    • the first author acknowledged the apples-for-pears glitch but did not provide the lacking information
    • I asked again for that integration I needed
    • radio silence
    • I then discovered the article, pointed out to the inconsistency with the paper, and urged the need for an integration, out of lack of alternative sources
    • radio silence
    • I moved on, carried an analysis of the topic at a considerable time overhead, and proposed to their judgement an integration for the lacking parts
    • radio silence

To sum up, 1-3 describe the context; 4-5 describe the problem; 6 describes what I did in search for clarifications.

Now onto the considerations

The shortcomings I have spotted must have passed several coarse filters.
The number of eyeballs (several co-authors and perhaps a couple of reviewers) that could/should have spotted at least some of these shortcomings from the outset is high.

I feel that the situation is particularly anomalous because of point 1.
That is, granted none is perfect, I would expect that associate editors are particularly strict ensuring that their own publications set a standard for the journal, or do not betray that standard. In my view, this is surely no research misconduct, rather either a questionable research practice or a minor shortcoming, depending on judgement. However, I feel this is not exactly OK.

I am also quite willing to wait for a few weeks for a satisfactory answer to come or for me to develop another perspective on the state of the play, also thanks to this community.

Now onto the questions

In this meantime, at any rate, I would like to gather views from this community on why

  • you would recommend to inform the editor-in-chief of the shortcomings in points 4-5 and motivate a request for revision?
  • you would rather recommend not to do this?

(I am neither an associate editor or an editor-in-chief.)

  • 5
    What outcome are you hoping for here? – Jon Custer May 6 at 13:05
  • 1
    @JonCuster A guarantee for high quality standards in the future. Kind of who watches the watchers? For the rest it is still an undefined sense that this is not OK. I do not have special "hopes". – XavierStuvw May 6 at 13:11
  • 3
    @XavierStuvw: So why do you trust the people in this forum? I think the main thing here is the human component. People will react differently. Some people are jerks on a human level -- good and bad scientists alike. Some care most for truth and quality, some for protecting friends, some are too lazy to fhange something, some will view you as a troublemaker, some will love you for that info.. you need to consider what kind of human they are to make a guess what to do. – user111388 May 6 at 14:11
  • 1
    Is the article worth it? Do people read it? There is so much fluff and irrelevant work in the literature that, as long as it is not grossly misleading, wasting time of many people (e.g. claiming to have some cure to a relevant and dangerous illness), either it will disappear in the fog of the past or, if it is interesting/relevant/attracting attention, you can write a separate commentary as response on the article. You are not the employer of said scientists, so "waiting for a satisfactory answer" is positing a demand that the authors may not have the resources (time) or desire to fulfil. – Captain Emacs May 6 at 17:16
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    @XavierStuvw It was just a question to clarify, not really an answer at this point. Yes, you may state to the editor that, because your commentary is critical that they ensure that it gets a fair review. You cannot probably prevent one of the original authors to be asked by the editor to write a review, as they will - rightly - want to have an opportunity to respond, but it depends on the editor. Unless you can state a direct conflict-of-interest, of course. – Captain Emacs May 6 at 18:59
4

Reading your post, I did not understand exactly what the problem is with their article. It may be sloppily written, but your post comes across like you are looking for reasons to complain about it.

It is unfortunately common for articles to be poorly written. Of course, depending on the journal one expects varying quality, but even in top journals writing and presentation quality may not the primary concern for publication.

On the other hand, if you have comments on how an article can be improved, you have to be very careful when emailing the authors. Unsolicited criticism does not usually go over well.

  1. A handful of other co-authors follows. They are also affiliated to serious education establishments and hold positions with some standing.

This does not seem relevant to the question.

  1. Author and co-authors are associated by a grand research project.

Similarly, this doesn't seem to be relevant.

  1. Parts of the article have been copied and pasted, or slightly edited, from grey literature related to the same research project.

Are you accusing them of plagiarism, or did they only copy from their own past papers? If the former, that is a major concern and you should contact the editor, but only about this particular point, not the rest. If the latter, note that attitudes on self-plagiarism vary and while it is inadvisable, it is not always considered unethical.

  • some terminology is plainly wrong (apples-for-pears)
  • some terminology is subtly wrong (community-bound misnomers)
  • some formulas lack
  • the references do not contain information integrating these lacunas

These are issues for the presentation but not issues with the work itself. It sounds like you have a lot of ideas for how to improve the article, but as you are not the author of the article, there is no direct and easy way for you to do so. If you feel strongly about presenting their work more effectively, you could consider writing a blog post or other piece of exposition putting their work in a positive light and clarifying such issues.

  • I asked again for that integration
  • radio silence

Were you polite in your emails? Did you compliment their work at all? Did you express interest?

If not, I would probably respond with radio silence too. Yes they could improve the article, but they did not ask you for your unsolicited feedback. They are not obligated to answer your email.

I then discovered the article, pointed out to the inconsistency with the paper, and urged for some integration

It sounds like you emailed the authors and just told them to change their paper. This comes across as rude. You need to be more tactful in your suggestions.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks for sharing your views. The reasons to complain are already in 4-5: the original material was not edited critically before publication in a journal, and the present form impedes reproduction/verification; so no presentational issues. Points 2-3 are descriptive and provide guarantees on the authors' reputation, nominally at least. I asked clarifications as an interested person who would benefit from them; probably I haven't complimented them enough, but neither detract. I'd hold that improving the article is in the best interest of the journal, authors and readership. Hence the post. – XavierStuvw May 7 at 15:18
  • @XavierStuvw probably I haven't complimented them enough In general, you can't just email someone and say "please edit your paper". No one responds well to this. – 6005 May 7 at 16:25
  • Of course not. I haven't written anything like that. So I concur. The core of the post is whether it is appropriate to inform editors-in-chief of such occurrences, in the net of all the communication glitches that may or may not have existed. We do not have to assume either that the counterpart is made by knights without fear and beyond reproach. Also, dealing gracefully with the rude is a mark of class and, in the name of science, one might even drop a line Thanks for spotting this; we will look into this at our earliest convenience. I hope to have reassured that I refrained from offending – XavierStuvw May 7 at 16:42
0

It sounds like some mistakes were made, but that there is no reason for you to take more action, because I see no clear benefit to action. I suggest you find other resources that will help you with your research more efficiently.

| improve this answer | |

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