Science journal retracts report by Chinese scholars suspected of plagiarism

By Huang Lanlan Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/25 9:53:41

Photo: IC

Scientific Reports, an online multidisciplinary journal from Nature Research, has reportedly retracted an article by Chinese scholars due to suspected plagiarism.

According to Scientific Reports' announcement on April 9, the journal had retracted the article Modified box dimension and average weighted receiving time on the weighted fractal networks, an article by five Chinese authors published in December 2015.

Significant portions of the article's text and equations were taken from Hungarian Roland Molontay's BSc thesis without attribution, read the announcement.

The authors do not agree with the retraction of the article, it added.

"Concerns regarding this paper were brought to our attention shortly after publication," a spokesperson for Scientific Reports told the Global Times via email on Thursday.

The email said that the journal's editorial team carefully reviewed the issues according to  established procedures, and concluded that a retraction was the most appropriate course of action.

"Our responsibility, as a publisher, is to maintain the integrity of the scientific record," said Scientific Reports.  

Molontay, a teaching and research staff member at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, said he had encountered this controversial article as early as the end of 2015.

"I was shocked as I glanced through it," he told the Global Times via email on Wednesday. "It was crystal clear to me right from the start that the authors had plagiarized my BSc thesis."

Molontay recalled that he and his then supervisor had reported the plagiarism to Scientific Reports backed up by evidence in January 2016, and that it "took quite a long time" to retract this article.

The article's first author was Dai Meifeng, a professor at Jiangsu University (JSU) in East China's Jiangsu Province. The university told the Global Times on Wednesday that it had formed an investigation team consisting of JSU's academic committee and off-campus experts to verify the plagiarism.

A conclusion has not yet been reached, said JSU's science and technology department that organized the investigation. "We would impose serious penalties on Dai if plagiarism is confirmed," the department's deputy director Li Jun told the Global Times.

Dai said she was not able to comment as the article is under investigation, China Science Daily reported on Tuesday.

JSU has zero tolerance toward plagiarism, Li said. Dai may face a series of punishments, such as being disqualified from applying for a higher professional title or from participating in major academic programs for a couple of years, if any wrongdoing by her is found, he added.

Molontay said he feels sorry for the authors as he can imagine that it must be a hard time for them. "But unfortunately, this is clearly plagiarism, and the morally acceptable action from our part was to report it to the journal," he added.

Thesis plagiarism is not rare among Chinese scholars. A college student in Central China's Henan Province, for instance, complained on social media in late March that her supervisor copied 90 percent of the content of her graduation paper in a published thesis.

In August 2016, associate professor Zhao Jingchun in Southwest China's Guizhou Province was reported for plagiarizing an essay by an undergraduate. Zhao later admitted he hadn't written the essay but had bought it from an agent for 3,000 yuan ($423.5).

The disappointing phenomenon of thesis plagiarizing and trading is partly caused by defects in the current academic evaluating mechanism at China's universities, observers analyzed.

When evaluating a scholar's academic performance, universities place too much emphasis on the quantity of his or her published articles while ignoring the quality, said Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute.

"Facing pressure to write and publish as many theses as possible, some scholars choose the wrong option of cheating," Xiong the Global Times on Wednesday.

Xiong, therefore, is appealing for the establishment of a more scientific academic evaluating system which attaches more importance to the quality instead of quantity of scholars' essays. "And evaluators should be academic and industry experts rather than universities' administrative leadership," he said.

It is understandable that there is huge pressure on academics due to the "publish or perish" policy of many universities, Molontay said. "Nonetheless, plagiarism or any other academic misconduct is not the right answer for this pressure," he added.


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