Plagiarism in Chemistry: a case report

The Ostrowski lab tweeted this weekend about plagiarism of one of their papers. Let take a closer look at this case in this post.

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The original paper is the following:

  • Light-Responsive Iron(III)−Polysaccharide Coordination Hydrogels for Controlled Delivery – Giuseppe E. Giammanco, Christopher T. Sosnofsky, and Alexis D. Ostrowski – ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces (January 2015) – DOI: 10.1021/am506772x.

The paper suspected of containing plagiarized content is here:

  • Fe(III)- Coordinated Hydrogel and Photo-Induced Sol-Gel Process -A Case Study – Indrajit Chakraborty – International Journal of Engineering, Science and Mathematics Volume 7, Issue 4 (2) , April 2018 (Special Issue FBSA). – no DOI number [paper link, archived version]

The author of the 2018 paper is an assistant professor in Organic Chemistry at Malda College, West Bengal, India. Malda College’s vision is “to mould the students into responsible citizens with education, advanced knowledge and moral values for a happy society.

Because the Chakraborty paper does not have a DOI number and is not indexed in PubMed, it cannot be commented on at PubPeer. So let’s take a closer look at the similarities between the two papers in this blog post.

Textual similarities

Plagiarism is copying someone else’s text and ideas and pretending they are your own, without citing the other person’s work. Text comparison is one of the tools to help decided whether a paper contain plagiarized material.

To compare the text of two similar papers, I use SimTexter, created by the lab of Prof. Dr. Debora Weber-Wulff at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft in Berlin. For that, I copy/paste the text of the papers to be compared, clean it up a bit by removing hyphenations and PDF artefacts (e.g. replacing “compo- sition” by “composition”) and save it as a simple text file. I then copy those 2 text blocks into the SimTexter tool.

In this case, the textual similarities were clearly there. Identical text blocks (3 words or more) are highlighted by the software by identical colors. Even though some phrasings were rewritten (for example: “Principal characteristics” was replaced by “Important aspects“, and “helps establishing” was replaced by “helped to establish“) it is clear that the text follows a very similar structure.

SimTexter comparison. Giammanco et al. 2015 (the original) on the left, Chakraborty 2018 (suspected for plagiarism) on the right.

Here is a visual comparison of the complete papers, showing that the similarities are found throughout the paper. The similarities show that the text is not 100% verbatim-copied but the similarities are still significant.

Figure similarities

The similarities between the two papers are even more clear when comparing the figures. In the examples below, figures from the Giammanco et al. 2015 paper (original) will be shown on the left, and those from Chakraborty 2018 (suspected for plagiarism) on the right.

Not only the design and chemical reactions appear to have been directly copied, also the measured results, with a slight tweak of the wavelength in Figure 14 and some changes in the measured values of Table 2 (not shown).

Some of the other figures in the Chakraborty paper do not match those in the Giammanco paper. It is not clear if these are original photos or if they were taken from other papers. I did a quick reverse image search and keyword search but could not find any other occurrences online.

Of note, the Giammanco paper is not listed in the references of the Chakraborty paper, nor is it mentioned in the figure legends.

The journal

The Chakraborty paper appeared in the International Journal of Engineering, Science and Mathematics which is a publication of the International Journals of Multidisciplinary Research Academy (IJMRA), a publisher based in India. The publisher’s website is a delightful showcase of a freshman’s HTML skills, with rotating arrows, scrolling banners, flashing text, and festive multicolor fonts.

This looks like a predatory publisher. The journals appear to have fake high impact factors, the papers do not get a DOI, and are not included in e.g. PubMed indices. The journals are “UGC approved”, which means that they are recognized by the University Grants Commission, an organization in India that sets certain”standards of teaching, examination and research in university education”. However, the UGC website warns that several journals falsely claim they are UGC approved. The list of official UGC-approved journals is not accessible without an account, so I did not investigate this further.

The website of the publisher and its journals are registered to the name of Shyam Sundar, and listed at 129 New Grain Market, in Jagadhri, India.

Many papers in the journals are single-author articles, and a quick analysis found several papers with plagiarized text.

Reporting this paper

The IJESM journal states that they take plagiarism very seriously.

Source: https://www.ijesm.co.in/submit_manuscript.php

But despite their strong statements and the senior author trying to contact the journal, the paper is still available as of today [archived version].

I have just reported the paper as well, but have low expectations. The article is likely to be either left as-is on the journal’s website or it might suddenly completely disappear. Therefore, I made an [archived version] here.

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