Imagine learning you’re an author on a paper after it’s retracted for plagiarism – Retraction Watch

Dragan Lambic

An education researcher whose colleague added his name without his knowledge to a paper he didn’t contribute to is now dealing with another problem: The paper has been retracted for plagiarism.

And now he’s suing the publisher – not over the retraction, but for allowing the authorship forgery.

Dragan Lambić, of the University of Novi Sad in Serbia, only learned his name was on the article in question, published in a Serbian education journal in 2020, when he received an email this January informing him that the paper would be retracted.

A colleague, Aleksandar Janković, had submitted the manuscript, “The influence of project teaching on creativity and achievements of students in studying social contents within the subject Nature and Society), to Sinteze – casopis za pedagoške nauke, književnost i kulturu (English translation, here and for all later instances, via Google: Sinteze – magazine for pedagogical sciences, literature and culture), in 2020. It was published later that year with Janković as the sole author.

Soon after publication, Janković emailed the editor of the journal, saying that the names of two other authors had been left off by mistake and asking to add them, according to emails seen by Retraction Watch.

The editor, Katarina Tomić, agreed to add the co-authors without contacting them, because it appeared that Janković had inadvertently left their names off the electronic publishing form, although they had been listed on the submission. (Neither Janković nor Tomić has responded to our request for comment.)

The following correction (translated to English) was published in the next issue of the journal:

In the paper Impact of project teaching on the creativity and achievements of students in mastering social content in the subject nature and society, published in issue 17, doi: 10.5937/sinteze9-25402, due to the author’s mistake, the co-authors were not listed. On this occasion, we apologize to the authors and readers. We must emphasize that the work was submitted to the author for inspection and verification before publication, but the remark was made after the work was published.

Then, in January of this year, Tomić received an email from the Center for Evaluation in Education and Science (CEON), the Serbian scientific publisher that indexes Sinteze. The message said that the publisher had received a whistleblower report that Janković et al’s paper had been plagiarized from a doctoral dissertation, and advised her to retract it.

The dissertation had apparently not been available for the plagiarism detection software iThenticate to check against the submission initially, which is not unusual. The paper did quote from and cite the dissertation in places, but CEON’s email noted large sections of text that had been taken verbatim from the dissertation without quotation marks, according to a copy seen by Retraction Watch.

Tomić emailed the authors, including Lambić, about the finding. Janković responded first, said a working version of the paper must have been submitted instead of the final version, and agreed to retract the paper on behalf of all the authors. In the same email, Janković noted that Lambić had not been involved in writing the work, but had given advice about how to do the research.

The English version of the retraction notice, published in July, is to the point:

Scientific article entitled “THE INFLUENCE OF PROJECT TEACHING ON CREATIVITY AND ACHIEVEMENTS OF STUDENTS IN STUDYING SOCIAL CONTENTS WITHIN THE SUBJECT NATURE AND SOCIETY”, authored by Aleksandar P. Janković, Andrijana Lj. Davidović and Dragan M. Lambić, published in issue 17 of the journal Sinteze – journal for pedagogical sciences, literature and culture, dated 10.12.2020, doi:10.5937/sinteze9-25402 and corrections doi:10.5937/sinteze9-30998, is being retracted due to plagiarism.

We reached out to all the authors because of the curious situation with the correction adding authors before the retraction. Lambić wrote back:

What is the most concerning in this case is that Sinteze journal did not contacted me even once before the problem with the paper was established, so I was not notified by the journal that my name was added to this paper in the correction mentioned. In this way, the editor in chief of the Sinteze journal Katarina Tomić, acted in the contrast of the procedure recommended by COPE (Committee on publication ethics) which clearly requires the consent of all the authors (including the added ones) before adding an author to the previously published paper. I need to reiterate that I did not give consent to the Sinteze journal for adding my name to this paper nor I was notified by the journal about this paper before the problem with the paper was established.

After I learned that my name was in that paper, according to the procedure of COPE for removing the author from published paper, I asked from the journal to remove my name from that paper by publishing new correction. Despite the fact that other authors gave the consent to remove my name from the paper (according to COPE recommendation) the editor in chief refused to do that and therefore acted again against the COPE recommendation. …

Because of this situation I filed the complaint to the CEON, organization which indexes Sinteze journal in Serbia, monitor their articles, host all of their articles on their website and is the member of COPE, but to my disbelief they refused to do anything about this situation. After that I filed a lawsuit against Sinteze journal, Editor in Chief and Publisher of Sinteze with request to remove my name from this paper by publishing correction. At this time, this lawsuit is still ongoing, so I was shocked by the explanation provided in the retraction, which do not mention at all the reasons which I stated for my removal from this paper.

In another email to Tomić giving consent for Lambić’s name to be removed from the paper, Janković said that he hadn’t obtained Lambić’s consent to be a co-author, because in his past experience journals had confirmed authorship with all of the authors. Janković reiterated that he listed Lambić as a coauthor because of his advice on the research.

Lambić told us he wasn’t sure exactly how his advice had been used for the paper, either:

Aleksandar Jankovic is my colleague from the Faculty of Education but from different department. We collaborated on two papers (in both I am the corresponding author) and in some research projects. He asked me many times for advice regarding various research so it is possible that he used some of these in the mentioned paper. My research in the field of education deals with the application of ICT [information and communications technology] in education and with mathematics and computer science education, and none of these subjects are included in that paper. Therefore, only some general advice regarding research methodology could be used in that paper, but I do not see that such advice is good enough reason for authorship in the paper. Acknowledgment maybe.

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