Published online 23 September 2009 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2009.945

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Publisher retracts paper by Iran's science minister

Iranian scientists press for plagiarism inquiry.

Kamran Daneshjou.Kamran Daneshjou.Raheb Homavandi / Reuters

Iranian researchers say they are dismayed and angered that a 2009 paper1 coauthored by Kamran Daneshjou, Iran's science minister, appears to have plagiarized a 2002 paper2 published by South Korean researchers. The similarities between the articles were revealed yesterday by Nature (see 'Paper co-authored by Iran's science minister duplicates earlier paper'). Iranian scientists say they intend to press for an examination of the allegations, and for the minister's resignation — should wrongdoing be established.

Anthony Doyle, publishing editor for the Springer journal Engineering with Computers, in which the paper was published, also told Nature that the journal will label it as "retracted" online, and include an erratum in the next issue drawing attention to the matter. "Springer takes plagiarism very seriously."

"This is a bitter blow to Iranian academic society, it's a scandal," says Ali Gorji, an Iranian neuroscientist based at the University of Münster in Germany, "I'd like to assure the international scientific community that Iranian scientists are honest and ethical, and that they are offended by this stupid act."

The affair has been widely picked up among Iranian researchers' email networks, blogs and some political news websites in Iran. Researchers inside Iran say that the minister has not yet publicly responded to the allegations, but that they expect him to. "There is a paradoxical situation between Iran's determination to boost science and technology, as stated by the Supreme Leader and the alleged non-ethical action by a science minister of the country," asserts one scientist in Iran, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Striking similarities

The 2009 paper by Daneshjou and Majid Shahravi, from the department of mechanical engineering at the Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran, in many places duplicates verbatim the text of the 2002 paper published by South Korean scientists in Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics. A smaller number of sentences are identical to those in a paper given at a 2003 conference by other researchers.

"The introduction is copied practically word-for-word," comments Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian materials scientist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, adding that so too are large parts of the methods, results and discussion section. "The English of the paper is not uniform," he notes, "Where they have copied from other papers, it reads smoothly. Where they have tried to add things themselves, it does not read as smoothly."

Similarly, almost all the figures, and their captions, are copied from the South Korean paper, although their order is sometimes different, he notes, adding that some are mirror images of those in the earlier paper.

Nature has since discovered that another 2009 article3 by the same authors, published in the Taiwan-based Journal of Mechanics, contains large chunks identical to a 2006 article published by a US scientist in Elsevier's International Journal of Impact Engineering4, as well as material from the paper by South Korean scientists.

Nature has made repeated efforts to contact Daneshjou and Shahravi for comment without success.

Controversial appointment

Many Iranian researchers have disputed Daneshjou's nomination as science minister. "The man's appointment was a political action by the government. He was not selected, nor is he supported, by Iranian scientists," says Gorji.

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Daneshjou served as the head of the interior ministry's office that oversaw the conduct of the contested presidential elections last June, which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. He was also Tehran's governor general from 2005-2008, and is described by scientists as a hardliner with ties to the revolutionary guards — most Iranian scientists, inside and outside the country, support the reformist movement.

Many researchers fled Iran during the cultural revolution in the early 1980s. The regime closed universities for three years, and violently purged them of any Western or non-Islamic influences.

Some now worry that a new purge of the universities is on the way, following Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's denouncing in early September of the humanities and social sciences taught in universities as a corrupting influence causing students to doubt and question Islamic values, and called for a revision of what was taught. Such alleged influences have also been a recurring theme in the recent public confessions and show trials of protestors. 

  • References

    1. Daneshjou, K. & Shahravi, M. Eng. Comput. 25, 191-206 (2009).
    2. Lee, W., Lee, H-J. & Shin, H. J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 35, 2676–2686 (2002). | Article | ChemPort |
    3. Daneshjou, K. & Shahravi, M. J. Mech. 25, 117–128 (2009).
    4. Segletes, S. Int. J. Impact Eng. 32, 1403-1439 (2006). | Article
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