Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Salami slicers and other intellectual irregulars

Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica. 2008; 87: 1264-1265

Acta has had a good name throughout its 87-year history. Running the journal means a lot of work and the Editors and Reviewers do their best to ensure quality. But intellectual irregularities happen to us like other journals from time to time and it is regrettable when someone tarnishes the journals’ hard-won image. This year two cases have come to our notice. In the USA, a powerful new search engine has been developed to spot verbatim publications, useful for intellectual theft (called plagiarism in English) or for the so-called practice of publishing in a ‘salami’ way, i.e. slicing one material into several smaller parts and publishing with virtually the same words closely related aspects of a research project, in several different journals (also called dual publication). From this search engine we were made aware earlier in the year that authors in Turkey had four years ago published an article (1), which is almost virtually the same as one published in Acta by authors from Israel five years before (2). There are slightly different figures given, but that is really all. The authors of both articles were written to. The former did not reply, which hardly was surprising, while the Israeli authors who had their intellectual work stolen, replied and seemed not to care, which also was surprising.
In April of this year, a group of researchers in Austria published two articles which are almost identical to a very large degree, one on interleukin- 10 and one on interleukin-6, one in Acta (3) and the other in the American Journal of Reproductive Immunology (4). A bit like publishing separately on twin A and twin B and letting it moreover look like they were singletons.
This turned out to be a somewhat sad story of copy-paste. The authors submitted both articles to both journals in September 2007 but omitted to tell us that two very closely related articles were being sent to these respective journals. To both journals it would have looked like they had done one unique study in one material on one particular substance, interleukin-10, in our case. Unfortunately there was a fault with hindsight relating to interleukin-6 in the interleukin-10 article sent to Acta, so we rejected it. The authors gave an explanation for some misunderstanding when they re-submitted a revised article. Never was the existence of the other article mentioned. In due course we published this revised article in good faith in our April issue. By chance, I discovered in June the other article in the American journal.
Correspondence with the authors and a prompt internal enquiry at the university concerned produced explanations and counterclaims between authors as to how this happened. Perhaps this is likely to occur in a competitive environment where careers are to some extent dependent on academic achievement measured in numbers of publications. It is not an unfamiliar situation and can be found anywhere in the world. But the articles have now to stand as they are because there is nothing to indicate that the data are false, - it is just the way the authors chose to present and publish their work, with a lack of the transparency and honesty that should prevail in academia. At Acta as elsewhere, this is an unacceptable practice. We take it seriously in our dealings with the authors at fault.
We will have more of this happening since humans are not infallible. It would be less than honest to say that any of us go like saints through life, and it would be hard to define that sort of person anyway. In moments of weakness, absentmindedness, misguided ambition or vanity anything can happen to all of us, even wilful deception. Just google the words ‘scientific misconduct’ and see what you find. Amazing stuff. There will be conflicts of interest that are not revealed, ghost-writing that is not discovered, authors whose name is on papers even though they have done very little to deserve to be there and those who have hardly seen the article until after it is in print. There are even those who fabricate science, lie about Material, Methods and Results or steal what others have worked hard to create. It happens at even the most widely distributed and best respected journals that authors deviate from accepted standards of scientific conduct. There are well known examples, also from the Nordic countries, most recently the infamous falsification case by Jon Sudbø (5). We in the Editorial Board try to discover this, to ask for information on articles submitted, to ensure that genuine, good and reliable information is being presented and to make what is published in Acta stand up to scientific scrutiny. But we cannot avert every misadventure. We will then not refrain from letting you, the  readers, know aboutthis as we do now. At the same time we alert the international community. It is wise to remember that we have a duty to expose such things if we are aware of them, and that includes at our own institutions.
Science is necessary for advancement and understanding of what we do in medicine, but itwould not be right to portray its proponents as infallible.
1. Arslan S, Gokmen O, Tuncay G. The office hysteroscopic evaluation of postmenopausal patients. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2004;/270:/31-3.
2. Orvieto R, Bar-Hava I, Dicker D, Bar J, Ben-Rafael Z, Neri A. Endometrial polyps during menopause: characterization and significance. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1999;/78:/883-6.
3. Stonek F, Metzenbauer M, Hafner E, Philipp K, Tempfer C. Interleukin-10-1082 G/A promoter polymorphism and pregnancy complications: results of a prospective cohort study in 1,616 pregnant women. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2008;/87:/ 430-3.
4. Stonek F, Metzenbauer M, Hafner E, Philipp K, Tempfer C. Interleukin 6-174 G/C promoter polymorphism and pregnancy complications: results of a prospective cohort study in 1626 pregnant women. Am J Reprod Immunol. 2008;/59:/347-51.
5. Horton R. Retraction - non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of oral cancer: a nested case-control study. Lancet.

Reynir Tomas Geirsson
Chief Editor
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
Landspitali University Hospital, University of Iceland
101 Reykjavile
E-mail: geirsson.acta@landspitali.is

Friday, October 10, 2008

Entire-paper plagiarism - NATURE

Nature 455, 715 (2008)

Thousands of 'similarities' found between papers.

When Eric Le Bourg, a French biogerontologist, came across a paper in a Korean journal recently, he almost fell off his chair; the entire article — text and graphs included — had been taken from one of his earlier articles. “It was plagiarism from beginning to end,” he says. “I was astonished; it was pure cut and paste.”

Such blatant copying of an entire article is not unknown, says Harold Garner, a researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Garner’s team has used its eTBLAST textmatching software to build Deja Vu, a continually updated database that already holds some 75,000 abstracts listed in Medline that seem highly similar. His team has so far found dozens of near-100% clone papers.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Repairing research integrity : COMMENTARY: NATURE

A survey suggests that many research misconduct incidents in the United States go unreported to the Office of Research Integrity. Sandra L. Titus, James A. Wells and Lawrence J. Rhoades say it’s time to change that......

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Scan Uncovers Thousands of Copycat Scientific Articles

Database search turns up research papers suspiciously similar to prior publications, prompting investigations
JR Minkel - Scientific American

A new computerized scan of the biomedical research literature has turned up tens of thousands of articles in which entire passages appear to have been lifted from other papers. Based on the study, researchers estimate that there may be as many as 200,000 duplicates among some 17 million papers in leading research database Medline.

The finding has already led one publication to retract a paper for being too similar to a prior article by another author.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How many papers are just duplicates?

Study hints at plagiarism and re-publication in biomedical papers.

As many as 200,000 of the 17 million articles in the Medline database might be duplicates, either plagiarized or republished by the same author in different journals, according to a commentary published in Nature today1.

Mounir Errami and Harold ‘Skip’ Garner at the The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, used text-matching software to look for duplicate or highly-similar abstracts in more than 62,000 randomly selected Medline abstracts published since 1995. They hit on 421 possible duplicates.

After manual inspection they estimated that 0.04% of the 62,000 articles might be plagiarized, and 1.35% duplicates with the same author. These percentages are lower than those calculated by similar previous studies. As yet, the researchers aren't sure why that is.

A thorough examination of apparent duplicates is always essential, they add, to verify whether papers are in fact plagiarised or resubmitted articles, or simply false positives. Some cases of duplication may also be done innocently. The ultimate decision has to be made by an authoritative body such as a journal's editors or an ethics board, they note.

Published online 23 January 2008 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2008.520

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Retraction: Domain wall solutions in the nonstatic and stationary Godel universes with a cosmological constant [Phys. Rev. D 71, 103503 (2005)]

Ihsan Yilmaz

(Received 8 November 2007; published 7 January 2008)
DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevD.77.029901 PACS numbers: 98.80.Cq, 99.10.Ln