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Wear Their Hides

Reports That Lead to Retractions Should Receive Formal Credit

Published onMay 10, 2024
Wear Their Hides

Behavioral neuroscientist Mu Yang, Ph.D. apparently caused the retraction of an entire book, Progress in Nanomedicine in Neurologic Diseases. To the credit of Springer, it appears the publisher acted quickly to retract this monograph, just published in July 2023.

Although it’s not super obvious on first glance at the title, overview, book description, or bibliographic information, if you look closer, you finally see the RETRACTED BOOK watermark on the cover image.

Clicking to download a chapter PDF leads to a document that clearly states this book has been retracted “after being informed that there were systemic issues with the Figures presented in this volume…” The notice goes onto outline a dozen areas where the figures are problematic.

Most interesting, to me, is the final paragraph describing which people associated with the book have agreed, disagreed, not stated an opinion, or have yet to reply to correspondence about the retraction decision.

All of this is valuable information to include in the scholarly record. And in some regard, this is all the information that anyone should need about the merits of the book’s content or lack thereof. But that’s not quite right.

This book, and every other title, in the Springer ebook collection will tell you the names of the publisher, editors, and authors. Intellectual credit matters. This is part of the logic behind open identity peer-review: giving credit to individuals who contributed to the final product.

Who informed the publisher about the systemic issues with this book? As I stated at the beginning of the post, it appears to be Dr. Yang. I only have an idea of this from social media, however. I don’t have any great reason to doubt it—there is great circumstantial evidence that she is the person who informed the publisher—but I also can’t confirm it.

So what is the evidence? If you navigate to the book’s altmetrics and click on the X (Twitter) tab, you are likely to see references to Dr. Mu Yang. Dr. Yang herself claims credit for the retraction (with the help of A.I. software Imagetwin), and has shared a link to a 12-page Google Doc of receipts on the image manipulation.

I don’t doubt that Dr. Yang sent this Google Doc to Springer which led to the publisher retracting the book. I also can’t confirm it, either. Dr. Yang doesn’t appear to be shy about taking credit for this retraction. In fact, based on the spreadsheet she apparently keeps, this is something of a hobby.

It is pure speculation on my part that this is not already taking place, but if not, publishers should be extending to whistleblowers (if that’s the right word for it) the option for their names to be included in retraction notes.

Listing a whistleblower’s name in this way would credit individual intellectual contributions, just like listing the names of authors and editors.

The role of editors and reviewers is to help decide what works should be presented to a particular audience. Whistleblowers are equally important in this same way by helping to decide what works should not be presented to an audience.

Making open identities an option for whistleblowers would allow third parties to confirm the claims of whistleblowers. This activity should be creditable in researcher’s tenure and promotion packets. Or, as I posted on twitter, if you get an article or book retracted, you should be able to include it on your CV, like wearing the skin of your slain enemy.

If it weren’t for people out there doing this sort of thing, you can imagine just how worse off our intellectual environment would be. Let’s reward it.

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