Nineteen researchers, most of whom are based at Johns Hopkins University, USA, stepped down from the editorial board of Scientific Reports, published by the Springer Nature group, in November. The mass resignation was a protest against the journal’s decision not to retract an allegedly plagiarized article describing a method of identifying regulatory sequences in DNA. According to Johns Hopkins biomedical scientist Michael Beer, the paper essentially reproduces parts of an article he wrote that was published in PLOS Computational Biology in 2014, and presents equations identical to those he developed for a software algorithm. Instead of retracting the article, the journal chose to correct it, adding an acknowledgement of Beer’s work. One of the authors of the disputed paper, Liu Bin, from the Harbin Institute of Technology in Shenzhen, China, is also on the Scientific Reports editorial board.
According to Richard White, editor of the journal, “the inaccuracies and ambiguities in the paper do not warrant its retraction.” Steven Salzberg, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who called on his colleagues to resign, says he was very disappointed with the journal’s decision. “When a student plagiarizes, we don’t give him a chance to revise and resubmit. We give him a failing grade and sometimes take even stronger disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion. Scientific Reports is thus setting a very poor example.”