Vietnamese physicist hauled up again for plagiarism

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Le Duc Thong's retracted physics papers

Two American physics journals recently retracted research papers by a Vietnamese physicist because of plagiarism, taking the tally of his retracted reports in the last two years to seven.

On May 23, Natural Science removed two papers by Le Duc Thong, Tuoi Tre reported.

The following day the Journal Of Modern Physics retracted another one.

All were papers trying to prove that the "fine-structure constant" change over time, by analyzing star spectra.

Thong's whereabouts are currently unknown and he could not be contacted by phone, the newspaper said.

The 31-year-old engineering graduate from Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport worked at the HCMC Physics Institute from June 2008, but was asked to leave in May 2010 after several foreign journals accused him of plagiarism.

The first retraction occurred in May 2010 with a paper that had been posted online by South Africa's Physics Letters B.

In July 2010 the European EPL pulled out his paper on "Was the fine-structure constant variable over cosmological time?"

"[The] paper has been formally withdrawn on ethical grounds because the article contains extensive and repeated instances of plagiarism," it said in its notice.

More of Thong's papers were retracted in 2011 and earlier this year.

They were listed as authored by Thong and several other experts from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, some of whom have denied any involvement in authoring them.

Nguyen Mong Giao, deputy rector of Hung Vuong University, listed as co-author of two of the retracted papers, told Tuoi Tre Monday "Thong put my name there on his own.

"Thong consulted me about one paper, and I asked him to fix it many times. It was not good even after a fourth time, but Thong just sent it for publishing.

"I don't know to whom and when he sent it.

"Thong's papers did come up with some small findings but they used other people's arguments."

He said Thong was not very serious about his research. "Sometimes he would discover something very tiny but consider it a big finding."

Giao said he has not been in touch with Thong for a while.

Two other physicists, Nguyen Thi Thu Huong and Ha Huy Bang of the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, also said they knew little about the papers.

Bang said he only gave some advise on the conclusion of one paper through Huong, his student and Thong's wife.

He and Huong had asked the concerned magazines as well as some others who have not retracted Thong's papers to remove their names, but they were turned down because the papers have been published and changes cannot be made.

However, other unrelated experts from Vietnam National University in HCMC said it's "odd" that the listed "co-authors" are not involved.

Dr Hoang Dung, head of the university's Science and Technology Department, said a person submitting a paper always has to submit the contact details of his/her co-authors and the publisher will only publish the papers with their agreement.

Dr Cao Huy Thien, deputy head of the HCMC Institute of Physics, said all of Thong's papers are about the "fine-structure constant," which is not popular in Vietnam but has been studied and published worldwide.

Vietnamese physicists and scientists in general are worried after the retractions since they earned them all a bad name.

"This is about a person or group of persons.

"But it will seriously damage the prestige of all Vietnamese physicists."

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