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I'm the executive editor of a PubMed-indexed journal. Last year The journal published a paper with four authors in the byline. Today I received an e-mail from the first author admitting that she translated large parts of a research paper published in a local language and used it in the paper's introduction and discussion without referring to the author. She claimed that she did not realize at the time that this was unethical. The other authors, when they discovered the problem, asked her to send us an e-mail containing these details and also sent an e-mail asking us to withdraw the paper.

I could not access the paper written in the local language because it was published in a local journal. Accordingly I'm not sure how much of the text was used.

We use a plagiarism detection software but for this paper it did not yield any results that warranted attention.

Is withdrawal the solution? If so, how can I contact PubMed to do it? Are there any further steps to be taken concerning the authors?

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    I'm rather perplexed as to how an "executive editor" would not know how to contact the relevant people. I must be missing something here... – zibadawa timmy Jun 30 '15 at 11:10
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    @zibadawatimmy More so as OP says he is "the" executive editor. – mkc Jun 30 '15 at 14:28
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    @zibadawatimmy When did it last occur to you to know everything a position requires before working on it? It's no difference for executive editors. – silvado Jun 30 '15 at 18:46
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Retract the article.

That's what editors of reputable journals do when an author spontaneously asks for it for reasons of plagiarism.

What other options were you considering? Adding a note saying "The authors admitted to have plagiarized large portions of this article but since our system did not detect it, we publish it anyway."?

It's the duty of the editorial board to execute the retraction, possibly with the support of the publisher. But surely your journal has a standard procedure to handle retraction...

It certainly would help to notify PubMed that will publish the retraction notice in lieu of the article. I suspect this is part of the information that your journal is providing to PubMed by default...

  • It seems the plagiarism was the "introduction and discussion" ... But maybe the bulk of the paper describes clinical trials carried out or something. So maybe merely adding appropriate references will be enough. – GEdgar Jun 30 '15 at 15:02
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    @GEdgar I like this sentence found on this thread: "it's not like we assign 50% of the grade during review for brilliance, 30% for writing style, and 20% for not plagiarizing. It doesn't work that way" – Cape Code Jun 30 '15 at 15:55
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    If it's just the intro, I suggest: retract, completely replace the offending sections (possibly without your questionable colleague, if that was all he contributed), and submit a fixed version with an explanation and abject apology... – keshlam Jun 30 '15 at 23:34
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Plagiarism is tricky when it comes to using works that have not yet gone through cross-language publication, especially if said works are not widely known. Common decency would dictate a "cite or do not use" mindset, but since it's already been submitted this complicates things.

As far as contacting Pubmed goes you could use their Help Desk to see if you could retract and edit where appropriate, then resubmit.

If a decision is made to keep the material but cite properly, you can refer to this question with answers that tackle that.

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