18

About 18 months ago, I found a published paper which plagiarised my work.

I initially contacted the journal editors, but they did not respond. I then contacted Elsevier, which publishes the journal. After a series of emails over several months I was forwarded a fairly cold response from an editor, which denied the issue with little apparent investigation (even though I had already presented detailed evidence of the plagiarised sections). I eventually contacted one of the authors who readily admitted the problem (the authors had previously attempted to plagiarise my work, but I caught this early because I was invited to peer-review that paper). The authors offered to request that the paper is retracted. However, I suspect that the authors have experienced the same issue I faced when trying to request action from the editors, and the paper is still available in published form online.

How should I proceed to deal with this situation? I have already tried contacting the journal editors and Elsevier via the "Contact us" link (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/contactus), but this has been a waste of time.

This is not a well-respected journal within my field of work, so I could try to ignore it. But, as well as the obvious reasons why the paper should be retracted, it has already received a citation - which potentially could have been attributed to one of my original publications.

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    Since my usual advice here is "contact the journal and the editors", but you've actually done that already, I've tweaked your title to try and attract a bit more attention. +1 for a good question. – tonysdg Oct 29 '16 at 0:33
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    It seems very odd that a journal would refuse or delay retraction if the authors themselves are requesting it. I suspect the author you contacted might not be so keen on retracting that it might seem to you. Maybe the other authors are not enthusiastic either. Also, is the journal pay for publish? – Cape Code Oct 30 '16 at 7:47
  • @CapeCode It's possible that the authors did not actually contact the journal editors, but the lead author did delete the entry from their public Google Scholar profile - which I have verified. It is a pay-to-publish journal, so there may be case here for inclusion on the list of predatory publishers. – sblair Oct 30 '16 at 13:01
  • @sblair It's probably too soon to decide on just one event. But the pay to publish model does create and additional incentive not to retract the paper because the authors paid, possibly a large sum of money, to get it published and retracting now might meant that money is lost. – Cape Code Oct 31 '16 at 12:35
  • Can you tell, what happened at the end??? I am facing the same problem with one of my published articles. – user84130 Dec 7 '17 at 14:04
12

If you have tried the journal/publisher's complaint process without success, and you believe that the journal editors are not handling the matter according to commonly accepted publication ethics standards, you can contact COPE, the Committee on Publication Ethics. All Elsevier journals are members of COPE.

If a reader or an author has concerns about a member editor, journal or publisher which they wish to raise to the attention of COPE, they should email the COPE Membership Assistant and supply the following information:

  • A summary of the concerns in 500 words—this will be shared with the editor and/or publisher and thus the summary should be as clear as possible and provided in a polite tone.
  • An outline of the points within the COPE Code of Conduct which are relevant to the concerns.

Source: COPE: Contact Us

This flowchart explains how COPE handles complaints about member journals.

5

As others have mentioned, contacting the editors of the journal (and authors of the paper) is the recommended first step. However, since that didn't work ...

You can always take a "name and shame" approach.

One possible step is to write an official "letter to the editor". That is, not just a short unofficial, back-channel email to the editors, but a full on official letter of the form that would be typically published in the front part of the journal. This would indicate to the editors that you're serious about this issue, and are willing to stake your name and reputation on the accusations of plagiarism. -- Keep in mind, though, that the editors may decide not to publish your letter.

If the journal itself is not willing to be an outlet for informing readers about the plagiarism, you can seek alternative venues for it. Other journals are unlikely to be interested, but social media might be a possibility. I don't know about Elsevier, but many companies monitor places like Twitter, and respond in a more timely manner to issues raised there. If you post the information there (with the appropriate "@ mentions" to bring it to the journal's and Elsevier's attention) you may get more traction - particularly if you mention that approaching it through the standard channels didn't work. Again, you will want to do this "officially", from a Twitter account associated with your academic presence, rather than from a recreational, pseudonymous account.

There are also social media accounts and organizations which are interested in misconduct in journal publishing, and they may be interested in helping you pursue this, or at the least serve as a platform to inform people of the issue. Retraction Watch may be an option, particularly if you can demonstrate that the journal in question is stonewalling you and the author(s) in pursuing a retraction. (They can also serve as a neutral third party to let you know if the issue is compelling/serious as you think it is, so this might be a good first choice.)

As final note, I'd caution you to be careful in pursuing a "name and shame" approach. As I alluded to, it works best if you are willing to put your name and academic reputation behind the accusations of plagiarism. Be sure you can adequately demonstrate evidence for all of the accusations (of plagiarism or stonewalling) before making them.

Also keep in mind that there may be a difference of opinion here. The editors are not going to retract the paper just on your say-so. Journal-originated retraction, or retraction when not all the authors agree to it is a serious deal, and the editors will be (rightfully) hesitant to do it. The editors may err on the side of caution, and believe that the evidence of plagiarism is not as compelling as you make it out to be.

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    Thanks for the very thoughtful answer. I think I'll raise the issue publicly to @ElsevierConnect on Twitter, but obviously with the details discussed privately via DM. I am confident that my claim of plagiarism is appropriate, and I think this is reflected by the authors' very quick agreement for retraction. So if the Twitter route fails, I'll contact Retraction Watch (albeit this being a relatively minor case). – sblair Oct 30 '16 at 1:53
5

If you work in mathematics, the European Mathematical Society has an Ethics Committee to who you can present your case. They should contact the editor and Elsevier, hopefully with more traction than you had, and can issue public statements if there is no satisfying resolution. This could help you substantiate your claims whenever you need to, and also should harm the offenders.

If you don't work in mathematics, I suggest you look whether any learned society in your field has a similar ethic committee you could appeal to. Note that the EMS ethics committee considers cases from any mathematician, not only European ones.

1

If you are feeling gutsy -- do you know and have the respect of anyone who works on the editorial board of any Elsevier journal? You might consider taking your problem to them, and asking them if they are willing to intervene on your behalf. This could annoy them and not solve your problem, and I can't honestly recommend it. But if you are tenured or can otherwise afford to risk burning a bridge or two, they might be sympathetic and see to it that the offending paper is retracted.

If you decide to give up on taking any practical action towards getting the paper retracted, you might consider joining the Elsevier boycott, if you have not done so already. Joining a boycott would give you a good excuse to no longer deal with a company which has not treated you well. It would also help the scholarly community put pressure on them to be more responsive to our needs and not only their bottom line.

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    I really don't see how this answers the question... – Yemon Choi Oct 29 '16 at 1:57
  • For the benefit of anyone who skims this question in the future, it might be helpful if you just flipped those two parts around :) – tonysdg Oct 29 '16 at 2:15
  • @tonysdg Good suggestion, thanks, done. Yemon Choi: Revised to put the more practical part of my suggestion first. – Anonymous Oct 29 '16 at 2:25
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    @CapeCode "The Elsevier "boycott" hurts mostly the ones boycotting" This is a rather sweeping statement, is there evidence to support it? – Did Oct 31 '16 at 10:21
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    @CapeCode "little interest" Not true. Commonly, the pool of top journals of one's field is not exclusively Elsevier, then one can decide to submit one's papers to / referee for / sit in the Editorial board of, only those top journals that are not published by Elsevier (or by another publisher with similar business practices). – Did Oct 31 '16 at 13:37

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