The Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England has an informative retraction notice about a recent paper it published that was marred by self-plagiarism. The article, “Current concepts of surveillance and its significance in head and neck cancer,” from a group of researchers at Grant Medical College, in Mumbai (which is known to this blog) and Royal Marsden Hospital in London, appeared last November. It soon was found to be awfully similar to a 2009 article by the same group of authors (sort of) in a different journal.
Here’s what the Annals had to say:
Recently the Editor received an enquiry from a reader concerning a paper published in the November 2011 issue of the Annals. This noted extensive similarities between the Annals paper and a publication by the same authors in 2009. The abstracts of the two papers are almost identical, the work reported concerns the same group of patients seen in an identical time period, many sections of the text are closely similar or identical, and several tables contain the same information, albeit sometimes in a different order.
The submitting author and the last named author of the Annals paper were asked to comment on these facts. A reply was received from a third author, named first on the Annals paper. This was unconvincing. The reply included these statements: ‘The article published previously in the Cancer Treatment Reviews was an extensive review which addressed all aspects of surveillance under two broad headings of “when to follow up” and ”what to follow up” and also had a detailed discussion on the recommendations. Whereas the study we published in the Annals reviewed articles on specific aspects of surveillance such as timing of visits, imaging and endoscopy alone. The article as such is not a word to word [sic] reprint and so the question of dual publication is contested […] We are however keen to address the issues raised and we would like to update the article accordingly.
‘We would also like to apologise as the article was submitted without the clear knowledge of the senior author Mr Rehan Kazi and he has expressed his desire to be withdrawn from the list of authors.’
In our view, this constitutes dual or redundant publication. The similarities are too great to allow any other interpretation. The second (Annals) paper makes no reference to the earlier publication and if the Editor had been aware of the first publication, he would not have accepted the work for publication in the Annals.
The authors’ response raises two other issues. It is naive to suggest that these issues can be dealt with after publication. Publication defines the final version of a paper and later changes are not possible. More worrying, the last named author of the Annals paper was named as corresponding author but he was not made aware of the submission. Criteria for authorship are well known3 and include formal agreement to submission of the final text by all authors. We are currently reviewing our submission requirements to strengthen this aspect of submission.
The Annals subscribes to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and strives to maintain the highest standards of practice. Contributors will be aware that we have recently begun to use the CrossCheck service, which has the power to detect dual or redundant publication and plagiarism (unfortunately too late to detect in this case).
The recent publication in the Annals has now been retracted. We regret the time and effort wasted in this matter by our reviewers and staff, and the lost opportunity to publish another paper in the space taken by this submission.
The letter is signed by Colin Johnson, the editor-in-chief of the journal, and WEG Thomas, chair of the publication’s editorial board. The references to the two papers are:
1. Manikantan K, Dwivedi RC, Sayed SI, Pathak KA, Kazi R. Current concepts of surveillance and its significance in head and neck cancer. Ann R Coll Surg Engl 2011; 93: 576–582 (cited March 2012).
2. Manikantan K, Khode S, Dwivedi RC et al. Making sense of post-treatment surveillance in head and neck cancer: when and what of follow-up. Cancer Treat Rev 2009; 35: 744–753.
We’d certainly like to see more retraction notices like this, and we commend the journal for the detailed notice, particularly in a rather routine case of duplicate publication. But we note that running a bit of the abstract through Google, as we did, would have caught the overlap, albeit retroactively.
Here’s the abstract from the 2011 article:
Follow-up in head and neck cancer (hNC) is essential to detect and manage locoregional recurrence or metastases, or second primary tumours at the earliest opportunity. A variety of guidelines and investigations have been published in the literature. This has led to oncologists using different guidelines across the globe. The follow-up protocols may have unnecessary investigations that may cause morbidity or discomfort to the patient and may have significant cost implications. In this evidence-based review we have tried to evaluate and address important issues like the frequency of follow-up visits, clinical and imaging strategies adopted, and biochemical methods used for the purpose. This review summarises strategies for follow-up, imaging modalities and key investigations in the literature published between 1980 and 2009. A set of recommendations is also presented for cost-effective, simple yet efficient surveillance in patients with head and neck cancer.
And the 2009 paper it copied:
Follow-up in patients treated for head and neck cancer (HNC) is aimed at early detection of recurrence, metastases and second primary tumours. Various modalities for the routine follow-up of patients with HNC have been proposed and studied in the literature. Consequently, practising head and neck surgeons and oncologists all over the world use different guidelines and protocols to follow-up their patients. These guidelines involve follow-up intervals of varying intensity and schedule an assortment of investigations that may be neither logical nor practical. This follow-up process may be difficult to administrate, cause unnecessary discomfort and morbidity to the patient and can have serious cost-implications to the healthcare system. This review summarises strategies for follow-up, imaging modalities and key investigations in the literature published between 1980 and 2009. In this structured review, we have assessed studies in the literature that have addressed follow-up intervals, imaging tests, tumour markers, endoscopy and thyroid function tests as a part of the routine post-treatment surveillance in HNC patients. Studies analysing the cost benefit of such surveillance have also been addressed. Based on the evidence presented, we have compiled definitive recommendations for effective surveillance/post-treatment follow-up in patients with HNC.
It’s good that the Annals now uses CrossCheck. Why any journal today doesn’t use that service or a similar screening on every manuscript it considers boggles the mind.