In a telephone interview before the retraction Fleischmann stopped short of accusing Simon of plagiarism, pending Elsevier's decision, but acknowledged that the similarities were suspicious to say the least. "It's word for word, comma for comma, period for period, sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, for the bulk of the article," he says.
Simon, who admits that he reviewed Fleischmann's paper prior to its publication, defends his own article by noting that there are only so many ways for two authors to summarize the same body of research. "This wasn't intentional duplication," he told SciAm.com in a telephone interview. "This is what happens when you do review articles."
He added that he was being singled out for a paper that was a chore to write and brought him no added prestige. "Who cares? This is a review article," he says. "I'm never going to write another one, because of this bullshit."
Will Duplicates Keep Multiplying?
Errami and Garner say they hope that the prospect of being found out will discourage would-be copycats.
But Mike Rossner, executive director of journal publisher The Rockefeller University Press, notes that eTBLAST or similar search schemes may not be successful barriers against republication, because manuscripts submitted simultaneously to two journals would not turn up in databases until after they had been published.
Maxine Clarke, publishing executive editor of the journal Nature, says her publication uses text-matching software to compare a submission with papers in the publishing group's many specialty journals. She notes that they also ask prospective authors to submit copies of preprints and related manuscripts submitted to other journals to help editors and reviewers assess their novelty. Bronwen Dekker, an assistant editor at Nature Protocols, says her journal uses eTBLAST to scan submissions for evidence of self-plagiarism (copying one's past work) in the abstract or introduction.
Some evidence suggests that the possibility of detection may not deter the unscrupulous. Rossner says that five years ago, The Rockefeller University Press began checking papers for manipulation of photos that depicted experimental data, but he says he has seen no decline in the number of doctored images.
Although the long-term effect of the finding remains to be seen, there has already been some fallout. To wit: Fleischmann says that he has known Simon for 25 years and considered him a friend, but adds "I don't know if we still are."