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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

New retractions of diabetes, cardiovascular papers from Japan involve repeat use of figures

with 18 comments

At least four retractions have appeared involving the work of a group of Japanese researchers who appear to have reused figures — and doctored them — in multiple manuscripts.

The authors, led by Yoshiyuki Hattori, of Dokkyo University School of Medicine in Mibu (whose motto, by the way, is “where character is developed through learning” a reader points out that we had the wrong Dokkyo initially), published the same figure twice, and in the same year, in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.

Here’s a retraction notice from the JCP:

The editors of the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Biochimica et Biophysica Acta have discovered duplication of data in two manuscripts: “Disruption of the actin cytoskeleton up-regulates iNOS expression in vascular smooth muscle cells” (J. Cardiovasc. Pharmacol., 43 (2004) 209–213) and “Statin blocks Rho/Rho-kinase signaling and disrupts the actin cytoskeleton: relationship to enhancement of LPS-mediated nitric oxide synthesis in vascular smooth muscle cells” (Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1689 (2004) 267–272, doi:10.1016/j.bbadis.2004.04.006). We have requested an explanation from the authors, and an acceptable response has not been received. In the interests of scientific integrity, the editors of both journals have elected to retract both articles.

That paper was cited 7 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

We also found two more retraction notices for Hattori. One appeared May 17 in the online edition of Diabetologia, a Springer journal (the link seems to be broken), for the 2005 paper “Angiotensin-II-induced oxidative stress elicits hypoadiponectinaemia in rats,” cited 65 times:

This article has been retracted by the Editor-in-Chief of Diabetologia following the discovery of redundant publication (parts of figure 3 were previously published in Metabolism; doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2004.10.017).

The Metabolism paper, cited 20 times since it was published in April 2005, has also been retracted:

The editor would like to confirm the retraction of this paper at the request of the corresponding author. This article contains material that has appeared in Diabetologia, 48 (2005) 1066–1074.

We reached Dennis Vance, editor of BBA, who told us that a reader alerted him and his counterpart at JCP, Michael Rosen, to a potential problem back in early February of this year. Specifically, the issue involved the appearance of figure 5 from the BBA article as figure 3 in the JCP paper, but with a different legend.

Hattori’s group initially replied to requests for explanation, Vance said, but then stopped. The editors tried to be sensitive, given the intervention of geologic events.

At that time we were a little bit concerned about the earthquake; they had other things troubling them.

But eventually they realized that an explanation — at least, a plausible one — wouldn’t be forthcoming and decided to pull the papers.

I don’t understand why people do this. There’s lots of pressure on researchers these days, but still, there’s no excuse.

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18 Responses

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  1. The idea of retracting both papers when figures are duplicated is great- if one cannot believe one, why believe the other? This should be accompanied by a notification to a central database of authors whose work has been retracted- and journals should be asked to refuse papers from these authors for 3-5 years.
    It is depressing to see that these matters are taken so lightly.
    We see a great proliferation of on-line biology journals- its after all a great way to make money or at least secure a living for a few people-if you can get 10 articles per month at $1000 per month for omething called “open access” which now seems to ressemble a bribe to the publlsher, why not have a secretary and put out a journal. All you need is some sort of reviewers, and a thick skin when youget complaints.
    As Retraction Watch watchers know, I have sufferedl a good bit from this.
    The only thing I have managed to imagine in defense is substantial payment to reviewers. We have many out of work pdfs, retired prof like me, and underpaid senior grad students who could do this well. This would increase the quality of reviewing and decrease the profits from starting new journals.
    I also think it might be nice for authirs to hae to insert an indication of the number of papers they published per year over the last 3 years, and forsenior authors to include an indicatrion of how many people work in their lab.
    In interets of transparency, I will say that I am working on a letter to Science which covers these issues, some in more detail.
    Elaine Newman

    Elaine Newman

    August 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    • Interesting thoughts. Any critique of money-making by journals needs to consider very carefully the origins of the journal. Many journals are started by scientific societies, and the societies get a big annual kick back in royalties as a result. This goes a long way to helping to pay for annual conferences, poster prizes, travel awards, and other things which are not covered by membership fees. Sy what you want about societies, but conference registrations would get a lot more expensive (and corporate sponsorships a lot more intrusive) if journal royalties ceased.

      I think your criticisms of open access fees are a bit unwarranted. What you’re paying for really is guaranteed future hosting on web servers, which isn’t cheap. If you can set up a website to host your work, guarantee it is available for the next 100 years with minimal down time, and advertise it so people will actually visit, go ahead.

      Regarding the other suggestions (statement on # of people in lab etc.), I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. Is there an expectation of a certain # of pub’s if your lab’ is over a certain size? Surely that’s the business of the granting agency, not the journals? An editor has no business whatsoever in how “efficient” my lab is (or is not). Same goes for # of pubs in last 3 years… Some labs are slower than others… None of the editor’s business.

      Virgil

      August 24, 2011 at 9:19 pm

  2. There are many similar instances from Hattori’s group.

    1. http://blog.m3.com/Retraction/20110618/_Diabetologia1

    Fig 2C in Diabetologia 2010;53:2256 is identical to a part of Fig 1B in Cardiovascular Research 2009;81:133

    2. http://blog.m3.com/Retraction/20110618/_2011

    Fig 3 in J Cardiovasc Pharmacol 2011; 57:434
    This piece of figure is valuable because this colored figure is no more available now (in ahead of print version, it was color, but in a final printed version, it became white-black… it is difficult to find out this possible misconduct)

    WHY

    August 23, 2011 at 1:25 pm

  3. Marcus,

    Dokkyo University is different from Dokkyo Medical University (or Dokkyo University School of Medicine).

    Link should be this

    http://www.dokkyomed.ac.jp/en.html

    WHY

    August 23, 2011 at 4:09 pm

  4. I refuse to understand the condemnation (and of course the retractions) of the duplicate publications. Moreover, here, only some figures were duplicated, and it is not clear what a “different legend” was. I want to put it straight: if twenty journals, newspapers or books want to publish the same material, why is it a violation of scientific integrity? It surely is a sort of an obligation on the part of the author to indicate that the material was already published in such and such place, but only a sort of… Otherwise, there is nothing wrong, and in any case, nothing here is a violation of anything. A dozen of newspapers owned by a “chain”, publish the same paper word to word; there is no outrage, nor there is an indication of duplicate publication in any of them.
    This idiocy was started as “self-plagiarism” by, let me say – idiots. It is continued as “duplicate publication”, but there is still nothing wrong with this. My question is: how do the editors know which of the duplicate publications should be retracted? May it be that the earlier one is not a valuable one, but the later one is very much so? Of course, it can be!
    The right course is to publish just a note saying that Fig. aaa in bbb was published in ccc, or, that another version of paper ccc was published in bbb. That’s all that should be done in the case where the author is not citing the first version. It’s the author’s business how he gives publicity to his research; of course he can be criticised. I wish someone will sue the journal for that retraction.

    Pyshnov

    August 25, 2011 at 9:56 am

    • Pyshnov, there are quite a few differences between media articles, where the copyright owner republishes its own material/allows republishing the material, and scientific papers. One issue is that in many of these cases of (self-) plagiarism it is NOT indicated that this is a republication of the same material. Second, these articles are peer reviewed. People make an effort to read and evaluate a paper, and it is not appropriate that they have to repeat the work of other reviewers. Third, these republications are included in direct evaluations of a scientist’s scientific output. Self-plagiarism results in inappropriate double-counting / artificial inflation of one’s output. Fourth, these papers take up the space where other, more novel papers could have been published. I know several journals who reject a significant number of papers solely due to page limitations. It’s not nice when that space is taken up by something that significantly repeats the authors’ prior work.

      It is clear from the events described above that the authors were trying to hide that they repeated old data in a new manuscript. If someone is willing to be unethical in this respect, this questions the whole work. Retraction is appropriate to show the scientific community that rules are enforced and have consequences.

      Marco

      August 25, 2011 at 10:42 am

    • There are a number of reasons why this is problematic…

      1) Copyright… If figures/data are duplicated without attribution, the copyright of the first journal has been violated by the second journal. Irrespective of the science, journals take this stuff very seriously. If it is discovered that you did in fact break the copyright rules (yes, all that small print next to the check-box you sign before clicking “submit”), then you have broken the publishing contract with the journal, and they can do whatever they want. If you don’t want to get caught breaking the contract, then be up front about duplication during the submission process. If you leave it until after publication, it’s too late, you broke the rules, deal with the consequences.

      2) For the purposes of assessing “productivity”, many granting agencies look at the number of publications by an investigator, and these numbers are used to determine funding. Thus, publishing the same data multiple times allows investigators to game the system, by claiming to be more productive. Simply put, this is unethical behavior. It might be within the bounds of what is possible, but it’s not playing fair. Worst of all, if you get caught, you can fully expect to incur the wrath of your peers!

      3) The third issue concerns “guilt by association”. Maybe my radar is just more sensitive, but if I spot ONE thing wrong in a paper, I can pretty much assume that everything else is wrong. If an author is willing to fabricate data in one figure, it calls into question the entire data set. Similarly, self-plagiarism (or whatever you want to call it), is simply an indication of laziness. If someone was lazy enough to duplicate their own work, there’s a much higher likelihood that they also duplicated someone else’s work too. Do we have time too look over every paper to see if the self-plagiarizers also stole bits from other authors? No, we just assume that they’re lazy and probably did. Is this fair? Probably not, but again who cares – you game the system, you get caught, don’t expect sympathy from your peers.

      There are allowances for duplication, within reasonable limits – a key example is in methods. For example there are only so many ways you can say “we did a western blot”, so it is to be expected that a laboratory publishing a lot using a particular method will have similar methods sections in many different papers.

      Virgil

      August 25, 2011 at 11:33 am

    • “Specifically, the issue involved the appearance of figure 5 from the BBA article as figure 3 in the JCP paper, but with a different legend”

      Let’s talk on above particular case.

      Top 2 panels in Figure 5 from the BBA are identical to top 2 panels in Figure 3 from the JCP article. Both are microscopic images of tissue sections.
      Importantly, the two experiments were performed under totally different condition. It is impossible to obtain two identical pictures from two different materials (in this case, tissue section).

      Therefore,

      The authors accidentally submitted a wrong picture to BBA or JCP (honest error).

      or

      The authors intentionally submitted a wrong picture to BBA or JCP (falsification?).

      I do not think either case as duplication nor self-plagiarism. Am I right?

      dk

      August 26, 2011 at 12:03 am

  5. I don’t agree with Marco and Virgil.
    Marco,
    1. I said “if journal wants” to publish, understandably, without breaking the law; that’s about copyright. Understandably, for the author also. And this is quite possible.
    2. Reviewers. Again, if journal wants it to publish.
    3. In the case of the whole paper, the author should inform the journal, but it would be ridiculous to warn the journal that the methods section is word to word the same as in your four previous papers. And here it is important to really understand what plagiarism is. My definition is: it is falsification of the fact of authorship. This is legally correct. Self-plagiarism is nonsense. Repeating the same sentences from your previous work is absolutely normal too. In science, to rebel against this is to introduce a most stupid game that science never knew, simply because science is not about it. You found a good expression and you repeat it; you don’t have to change it because there are stupid people who do not understand what science is about.
    4. Scientist’s scientific output. (Note please that I didn’t put it in quotation marks:I believe you know it’s the words you just said.) The whole system stinks. It is designed to reward quantity; everybody knows this, but not everybody clearly realises that this works against science and against scientists. The output is a wrong word too, it suggests a production line, the antipode to scientific labours. The “output” must be in the short description of what you wish to call your achievements; the list of publications – a part of the supporting evidence, not more than this.
    5. It is not clear for me that “the authors were trying to hide that they repeated old data in a new manuscript”, it is strange that this, being the main point of the case, is not made clear.
    Virgil,
    1. Presently, journals took some steps releasing the authors from the previous strict copyright obligations. You now can copy from your work and distribute your work. Remember, this law is only about making money by selling copies.
    2. Granting agencies are in the same game, to make scientists uninventing employees of other people who don’t understand science. Scientists have now job descriptions that in good science cannot exist by definition. In British universities there are now line managers. The much better, more progressive system was that of Borgia family and the Moslem sultans.
    3. The “guilt by association” is something every one of us suspects, and this is as legitimate to have as any other unlawful thought. You just cannot publish it.

    Pyshnov

    August 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    • Pyshnov:
      1. Few will complain about “if the journal wants”. Problem is, in most cases the journal has no “want”, people just do.

      2. Ibid.

      3. Few will complain about this either. But it gets unethical when data from prior papers is just repeated without noting it IS prior data. This is also self-plagiarism. Or when a whole section is just repeated (this is where copyright owners will get upset).

      4. Quantity is, unfortunately, the easiest ‘objective’ parameter to determine. “Achievements” are subjective.

      5. I quote from the retraction notices:
      “The editors of the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and Biochimica et Biophysica Acta have discovered duplication of data in two manuscripts”
      and
      “This article has been retracted by the Editor-in-Chief of Diabetologia following the discovery of redundant publication”
      and
      “This article contains material that has appeared in Diabetologia, 48 (2005) 1066–1074″

      One does not “discover” such data duplication if it is indicated in the paper as data duplication.

      Marco

      August 26, 2011 at 3:17 am

  6. Marco,
    1. I don’t know if you will agree that “objective” parameter is not good when it’s irrelevant. And in this case it is irrelevant. Every day it is becoming less and less relevant because people learned how to cheat. On the other side, achievements are the relevant parameter. Its objectivity? My answer is that whenever I read about science, I read about the achievements, the number of papers is only occasionally mentioned. It would be very funny if this is reverted, but may be it all goes this way.
    2. It’s bewildering that you seem to define plagiarism without any connection with the question of authorship. Only this way I can understand your insistence of the term “self-plagiarism”.

    Pyshnov

    August 26, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    • Pyshnov,
      1. output is not irrelevant. Achievements are very subjective.

      2. I use “self-plagiarism” because that is what the issue is in the papers we are discussing here: the authors just copied themselves. In some sections of a paper that may be acceptable, in many others it is not. I don’t see how that can be “bewildering”, unless you are of the opinion that self-plagiarism is always just fine.

      Marco

      August 27, 2011 at 1:20 am

  7. Marco, plagiarism is changing the attribution/authorship. It, strictly speaking, does not change the fact of authorship which occurred in the past and which is impossible to change. But, it is falsifying this fact for the readers. Now, in the so-called self-plagiarism, the fact of authorship is presented correctly, it is not falsified. Therefore, it would be wrong to call this act of republishing the same stuff, under the same correct authorship, a plagiarism. Please note that copying is not plagiarism either. The copying with the wrong, falsified attribution is plagiarism. Furthermore, plagiarism, the worst kind of it – plagiarising the ideas of another may not involve copying the words at all; the sentences can be rephrased to hide the source, and only analyzing their meaning will show plagiarism. It is very sad that in this ethics and integrity business those who pronounce the rules have a great deal of interest to obscure the things that were even 15 years ago absolutely clear to everybody. This is how these “experts” make money, create jobs for themselves, accuse the innocent people who might be their political enemies and exonerate crooks who might be their friends. I suspect (no proof) that the money changes hands a lot during these protracted “investigations” and unending theoretical exercises. Though, I have documentary proof of falsification of the rules; this is in my own case, and this was perpetrated by several experts/investigators in three countries: Canada, US and UK. You, therefore, might excuse my insistence on the correct definitions. I also followed the developments in the area since 1993 when scientific establishment was flooded with complaints and began responding by… twisting and falsification of the rules, suppression of evidence, intimidation of the victims and witnesses, muzzling the press, inventing impossible confidentiality clauses and faking the fear of the lawsuits. It’s a long and most shameful story of corruption of science and the society in general.

    Pyshnov

    August 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    • Sorry, Pyshnov, but this is starting to sound a lot like semantics and conspiracy thinking.

      Perhaps you are too much clouded by a personal experience.

      Marco

      August 28, 2011 at 12:49 am

      • Only through personal experience one can know what it’s like.

        tk

        August 29, 2011 at 3:04 am

      • And personal experiences can also lead to a clouded judgment. I have no doubt that quite a few of those whose papers have been retracted due to apparent data manipulation, believe wholeheartedly that they are just the victims of a huge smear campaign (Milena Penkowa comes to mind, she is just certain everyone is out to get here). Same goes for plenty who plagiarized/self-plagiarized and had their papers retracted. That is their “personal experience” so they “know what it’s like”.

        Marco

        August 29, 2011 at 8:03 am

      • Yes, that’s the dark side of the coin. Researchers who have been deceived or plagiarized, on the other hand, are easily being passed off because of apparent “clouded vision” — most people in science do not believe in the “tip of the iceberg” phenomenon when it comes to fraud and plagiarism. Not all pedantic, passionate or grave opinions about these matters stem from clouded vision; in fact, I believe few do.

        tk

        August 29, 2011 at 10:36 am

  8. O, I love when someone mentions conspiracy theory, a good generic answer for any occasion. I also heard lawyers saying that plagiarism is an obscure area in law. I have a letter from Canadian RCMP fraud squad police telling me that authorship is difficult to prove; that was in response to my documents proving all my case, but this proof ignored totally by RCMP. So, if you have no desire to investigate the crime – go with generic answer! I have a letter from the Ministry of Education telling me that they would not go into the academic matters, to which I answered that in the same manner police can refuse to investigate a rape, saying that they don’t go into the matters of love.
    In Michigan university plagiarism case, Dr. Perlmutter was found guilty of fraud (university was made to pay $1.6 mln. to the victim, mainly for coverup), then, the university said that they do not think she is guilty; she is still working.
    Dr. Fabrikant in Montreal shot four people when the university repeatedly refused to seriously consider his accusations of corruption/plagiarism, etc. Later, external investigation found that university investigations were “misleading”, “superficial”, “not based on a proper inquiry”, “clearly and seriously deficient” and “inadequate”.

    What I am talking about is that crooks would not be a problem in science if universities would not regularly cover up fraud ( http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/176/6/749 ). To those who do not believe in the “tip of the iceberg” sort of complaints, I recommend to study the history of the struggle that a few people have to carry on. Learn first about W. Stewart and NIH in the 80’s. Then read how Canada is letting its universities “investigate” themselves ( http://pyshnov.wordpress.com/ ) There is no end to this corruption, not yet.

    Pyshnov

    August 29, 2011 at 10:54 pm


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