School student’s physics paper retracted over ‘self-plagiarism’

Senior co-author says he ‘forgot’ to add reference to overlapping paper

十月 8, 2019
Source: Getty

Getting two academic papers published while still at school, let alone one, would clearly be a major achievement for any teenager. But having one of those articles later retracted by a journal because your senior co-author “forgot” to properly acknowledge their similarity is probably not the best way to start a budding scientific career.

That is what has happened to a pupil at one of the US’ most prestigious private schools after a physics paper co-authored with a professor in China was retracted for self-plagiarism.

The article, in the field of optics, was retracted by the Journal of the Optical Society of America B because of “significant overlap” with another paper by the same authors published in a different journal just days before.

An investigation was launched by The Optical Society (OSA) after a whistleblower highlighted similarities between the articles and also raised questions about such a paper being authored by a high-school pupil.

The retracted article – which featured research into “Thomson backscattering” – was published in JOSA B on 14 June, around two weeks after another article by the same authors on Thomson backscattering appeared online in a physics journal called EPL (Europhysics Letters).

The JOSA B article appeared to be a longer version of the EPL paper, with passages in both featuring very similar – at times identical – wording, but with no acknowledgement of a link between them.

The JOSA B retraction notice states that the article had been retracted “due to significant overlap with another article by these authors without proper citation” in “violation” of OSA ethical guidelines. These guidelines state that there should be no “unacceptably close replication of the author’s own previously published text or results, even a few sentences, without proper citation”.

The first author’s affiliation is listed as Phillips Academy – an independent school in Andover, near Boston – which has been described as “America’s best high school”. Fees can be up to $57,800 (£46,600) a year and pupils often go on to study at Ivy League universities.

According to the original JOSA B article, the first author had conducted “much of the research…under the mentorship of the second author”, who is listed as Bai-Song Xie, a professor in the College of Nuclear Science and Technology at Beijing Normal University.

He told Times Higher Education that although the JOSA B article contained “many new research results and contents” that were not available in the EPL paper, he “forgot to add the reference” to the first paper.

“This is indeed not precise. I will learn the lessons of this matter and be more rigorous in future research work,” Professor Xie said.

Professor Xie added that he hoped the retraction would not have a “negative impact” on the student, who was “full of enthusiasm for scientific research”.

Bart van Tiggelen, editor-in-chief of EPL, told THE that because the JOSA B article was submitted and published after the EPL paper it was for the OSA “to investigate any self-plagiarism”. He added that after a “thorough investigation” the journal was “satisfied that no misconduct has taken place” with regard to “the authorship of an apparently very junior author”.

The EPL article remains online.



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Reader's comments (2)

Funny how , when plagiarism is at stake, China ( or Chinese) are very often at the center of the controversy.
Plagarism has become one of the most distorted tools used to discredit authors and or their work. Every single word is already on the internet so are the strings of words used in ordinary descriptive language. Software such as Turnitin was never intended to pick out such things it was merely developed to see if a whole essay had been used elsewhere in another college or university. This then leads us to the conclusion that this software device is used selectively by organisations for political reasons (lower case p) or in the less extreme case could be, and hence manipulate a case against an individual . Such devices are a potential tool, and if the potential is there to use this device to discredit someone then it will be used by the malcontent person./department or university at sometime somewhere. University of Chester take note.