What I did next probably cost me a huge bump in my readership. If I wanted to goose my numbers, I should have pointed this out to the folks who run Retraction Watch. I did plan to do so. However, I actually followed their own advice on how to handle the issue, at least broadly. After notifying my former student with an email having the subject "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", I used the "contact us" link on the publisher's website to tell the editor what I'd found, explaining that this paper needed to be retracted. You notice that I don't link to the paper in question. That's because instead of retracting it, the publisher "disappeared" the paper. The link I had doesn't work anymore; the paper no longer shows up in the online table of contents; it's as though the paper never existed at all. Not what I expected to happen, but on the scale of possible outcomes, not the worst.
The authors (a student and professor) are from some tiny college in India. I couldn't find email addresses (or really any history of publication) from either one, but I was able to get an email address for the department head there. I emailed him (explaining what I'd found, and how in the US I would have contacted someone at his university with a title like "research integrity officer"), and was pleasantly surprised to get a response within a day, agreeing that this was "terrible", and saying that he would take it up with the faculty member and the "proper authorities". This morning, I received an apologetic email from the professor, placing all of the blame on his student.
- Even if the student submitted the paper, the professor has some culpability - his name is on it, and someone paid the publication charges (a whopping $75US, which tells you something about the journal).
- It is abundantly clear that the paper was never seen by any reviewer of any kind. It literally jumped, in mid sentence in a grammatically awful way, from one spot to another in the copy/paste from our paper, skipping over all the surface chemistry stuff. The discussion included from the thesis mentioned Rice explicitly. No one who read this would have thought that this work was done at the home institution of the supposed authors.
- "Disappearing" a paper is wrong - a legit journal should retract the work, or publish an expression of concern, or something, not make it look like this never happened.
- I suppose I should be happy with the outcome (paper gone, publisher chastened, professor at least disciplined somehow by his chair), and given the lack of academic footprint of the student and professor, I'm not sure there is any point in mentioning them by name - I'd rather resign them to obscurity.
- This was so absurd (absolute copying without any attempt to hide it, in an obscure "journal"), my reaction really was one of almost amusement. My former student's reaction was definitely more one of anger, which is understandable given that it was his thesis that was being stolen.