Documenting plagiarism in a bee taxonomy paper
In November 2020, a correction was quietly published for a paper in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. It corrected a paper originally published back in 2011, “Leafcutter and Mason Bees of the Genus Megachile Latreille (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) in Canada and Alaska” by Cory Sheffield, Claudia Ratti, Laurence Packer, and Terry Griswold (full transparency, Terry Griswold was my PhD adviser at Utah State University from 2011–2017). The text of the correction reads, in part:
Although not explicitly stated by Sheffield et al. (2011), large parts of the text for the species descriptions used in that work were taken from the various treatments of the genus Megachile by Mitchell (1926, 1927, 1934, 1935a, 1935b; 1936a, 1936b, 1937a, 1937b, 1937c), especially Mitchell (1962), in addition to Sheffield and Westby (2007).
The entire correction is rather long and, in my opinion, not very straightforward. I think a more appropriate wording would be that Sheffield et al. (2011) plagiarized large portions of text from other works, particularly Mitchell’s (1962) “Bees of the Eastern United States”.
Importantly, while the correction does address the overlap in the species descriptions to some degree, it doesn’t address multiple outstanding issues in different parts of the paper.
I originally discovered the plagiarism back in July 2020 while identifying some Megachile specimens. I was using Mitchell’s 1962 publication “Bees of the Eastern United States” to key out some specimens. I came across a male of what appeared to be Megachile gemula, but the front legs were yellow, which didn’t match my reference specimens. I wanted to check what the normal color of the front legs was, so I looked up Mitchell’s species description to check. However, Mitchell’s description wasn’t very clear.
I knew that there was also a description of Megachile gemula in Sheffield et al. (2011), so I opened that work and looked up the description. I can distinctly remember my confusion as I read the text. As I read it, I thought I was confused and figured I must have accidentally read the description in Sheffield twice, so I went back over to Mitchell to read the description. That’s when I realized the text was the same in both works. I kept switching back and forth, and to my growing dismay…