Elsevier withdrew an entire book on the periodic table after it became known that substantial parts of Wikipedia appeared to be plagiarism. Released and withdrawn last year,The Periodic Table: The Building Blocks of Nature: An Introduction to the Naturally Occurring Elements, Their Origin, and Their Use, deals with minerals and their elements and covers the history of the periodic table.
The book’s lead author is mineralogist Theo Kloprogge, Honorary Fellow of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia and Associate Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas.
The decline of the book began on December 26, 2020 when Thomas Rauchfuss, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA and occasional editor at Wikipedia, received a message from a Finnish Wikipedia editor about the Inter-Editor- Website messaging service to ask for his help as a chemist.
“I read wiki articles on the chlorides of molybdenum and came across this book,” the note says. The Finnish editor said the text looked “strangely familiar” and it turned out that at least the material on molybdenum (ii) chloride and molybdenum (iii) chloride is either a “direct copy of Wikipedia or with slight adjustments” . He provided Rauchfuss with the copied version as well as the rejected book pages and asked whether the Elsevier publishing house should be contacted.
“I looked through the book quickly and it was crammed with things from Wikipedia,” recalls Rauchfuss. “I agreed that there was some pretty serious plagiarism going on.” He immediately contacted Kloprogge and sent him a text from the book, in which he highlighted what was either copied directly or precisely paraphrased from Wikipedia.
“He basically knocked me out,” recalls Rauchfuss. Kloprogge replied that he was not a chemist but a geologist and mineralogist and was “unaware” of such concerns. Kloprogge added that he had checked an entire chapter with the plagiarism detection software Ithenticate and nothing was found to be in accordance with Wikipedia.
Otherwise we had a problem here
Dissatisfied, Rauchfuss next turned to the book’s junior author, Concepcion Ponce, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of the Visayas Philippines. “I sent him those big highlighted sections that show copied or rewritten text, and they just ignored everything,” says Rauchfuss. The book’s third author, Thomas Loomis from South Dakota, USA, said he was unaware of the situation and only provided photos for the book.
When Rauchfuss finally contacted Elsevier, the publisher responded immediately. ‘They contacted me more or less directly and said,’ Yes, there is a problem, ” he says. Elsevier immediately withdrew the book online.
Rauchfuss is impressed by Elsevier’s reaction, but is surprised that the publisher apparently did not conduct an extensive plagiarism check before the book was published. “There is software that contains an algorithm to check some words in a row for correspondence with other text,” notes Rauchfuss. “The surprising thing is that apparently they didn’t.”
Kloprogge did not answer Chemistry world‘s request for comment, but he said it Retraction watch that the story is “too painful” to tell. He also said that he and the book’s other two authors agreed to the revocation, but they could release an updated version in the future.
“We suspect that a lot of Wikipedia content appears in student articles, and I’ve seen Wikipedia content in academic presentations, often with attribution,” says Rauchfuss. “But it is unusual for that to manifest itself in the form of this fairly visible book. [The authors] maybe just underestimated, such work is scrutinized by nerds who watch, ”adds Rauchfuss. “The moral is, you want experts to write books.”