Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Pharmacology journal expresses concern over “similar, but updated” review

without comments

The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology has issued an “expression of concern” for a 2003 review article, based on a previous lecture, with close echoes to a paper that had appeared in one of The Lancet titles.

Here’s the notice for the article, by Peter Winstanley, dean of the Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom:

The following article ‘Winstanley, P. The contribution of clinical pharmacology to antimalarial drug discovery and development. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2003; 55: 464–8’ was an invited review based on a lecture, published online on 20 May 2003 on the Wiley Online Library. This article is a similar, but updated, version of an article previously published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, ‘Winstanley, P. (2001), Modern chemotherapeutic options for malaria. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 1: 242–50’. The Editor of BJCP is satisfied that, while the reduplication of text from the earlier article was not good practice, there is a difference between the earlier and later work. The author, editor and publisher apologize for this failure to follow normal publication practice.

When we try the link to the paper in The Lancet ID, however, it takes us to the BJCP article. Here’s a link that works. The BJCP paper has been cited five times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, but one of those cites was by the retraction.

“Similar, but updated” is an curious euphemism, particularly when the editor, author and publisher acknowledge that the closeness was a “failure to follow normal publication practice.” Just how similar were these two papers?

Here’s the abstract of the article in The Lancet ID:

Unlike HIV disease or tuberculosis, both of which are also major threats to public health throughout the tropics, uncomplicated malaria of whatever species can be cheaply and rapidly cured, usually in outpatients. However, in common with both HIV and tuberculosis, control of malaria is threatened by inadequate resources and by drug resistance. Africa carries the greatest burden of malaria mortality and morbidity; by no coincidence, Africa is also the most resource-limited. The drugs for severe disease (quinine and the artemisinins) are largely unaffected by resistance so far, but the “first-line” drugs, mainly used by outpatients (eg, chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine), are a major cause for concern. Although effective drugs are available they are mostly too expensive for routine use. This article reviews the main drugs for malaria and outlines the therapeutic use of these drugs for uncomplicated and severe disease. The article then examines the challenges faced in the processes of changing policy, and the implementation of that policy shift.

And here’s the BJCP:

Unlike human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease or tuberculosis, both of which are also major threats to public health throughout the tropics, uncomplicated falciparum malaria is relatively cheaply and rapidly cured, usually in Outpatients. However, in common with both HIV and TB (but to varying degrees), control of malaria is threatened by inadequate resources and drug resistance. Worldwide, it is Africa that carries the greatest burden of falciparum malaria mortality and morbidity; by no coincidence, it is also Africa that is most resource-limited. The drugs for severe disease (quinine and the artemisinins) are largely unaffected by resistance so far, but the ‘first-line’ drugs, mostly used by outpatients (mainly chloroquine and sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine) are a major cause for concern. Although effective drugs are available, they are largely too expensive for routine use. The present article reviews the ways in which clinical pharmacology has contributed to the identification of new drugs and strategies for malaria.

We’ve tried to reach some of the people involved for comment, and will update with anything we learn.

Comments
  • chirality August 9, 2012 at 9:51 am

    “The Editor of BJCP is satisfied that, while the reduplication of text from the earlier article was not good practice, there is a difference between the earlier and later work.”.
    Sounds idiotic. If legit, it would create a loophole the size of the Universe.

  • amw August 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

    I agree that the second article looks very similar to the first and may well have only been briefly copy edited compared to the Lancet article. This is clearly poor practice and might technically fall within a strict definition of plagiarism.

    However it is also evident that in the scale of alleged research misconduct we see on Retraction Watch this is at the mildest end of the spectrum – this is not original research but a review article. So what is interesting here is how on earth the concern was raised in the first place. These articles are now essentially a decade out of date and are not actually misleading in any case, so what sort of person would now realistically raise this concern with a journal editor? One has to suspect a personal grudge here.

    • Toby White August 9, 2012 at 11:18 am

      There is a more benign explanation. It may simply be the recent acquisition of new software and new procedures being applied to back issues.

    • AnonEditor August 9, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      There are several cites comparing abstracts from back issues

  • Peter Nigos August 9, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Personal grudge or not, here a Dean of a medical school, responsible for establishing ethical values in his students, believed his golden words could be entered twice into the world’s literature by altering a few phrases here and there. If he was invited to contribute the second paper as a summary of a lecture, the ethical response would have been to explain that it had already been published elsewhere.

    • AMW August 9, 2012 at 11:55 pm

      Accepted – and a dose of humble pie has indeed been eaten here.

      On the issue of software being applied to back issues, websites or software do not write letters to editors. If any effort is being invested in applying such a system systematically, I would be interested in knowing who is doing it. Such a system would surely look firstly for original publications which are genuinely fraudulent rather than copy edited reviews by individuals.

  • Jon Beckmann August 10, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Reusing parts of one’s own text in different publications is legitimate. All authors should retain their right to do so.People, the bad guys here are the publishers, not the authors.

    • David Haedman August 12, 2012 at 7:46 am

      “Reusing parts of one’s own text in different publications is legitimate”. Where do you get that from?

      Please read: Checking for plagiarism, duplicate publication, and text recycling
      Sabine Kleinert a, on behalf of the editors of all Lancet journals
      The Lancet, Volume 377, Issue 9762, Pages 281 – 282, 22 January 2011

      You will need to log in, but it is free.

      “Readers deserve original content, and merely recycling parts of previously published work constitutes, at best, academic laziness. Publications are the currency for career advancement and reputation.”

      “We will routinely screen these papers before peer review, and if we find substantial overlap with previously published material, we will take appropriate action on a case-by-case basis. These actions might include asking authors to put a sentence in quotation marks, rewriting a small passage, or we might decide, in more extensive cases of text recycling, to reject and contact the authors’ head of institution—in the hope that inappropriate practices serve as a reminder to educate all academics in publication ethics.”

      • Jon Beckmann August 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

        I don’t care what anybody says about this. As i said, the publishers are the bad guys here, not authors who recycle parts of text THEY generated to begin with. This has got to change.

  • Daivd Hardman August 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    In reply to Jon Beckmann August 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    “As i said, the publishers are the bad guys here, not authors who recycle parts of text THEY generated to begin with. ”

    Your logic escapes me. In particular “THEY generated to begin with”. As an author you do have to sign a declaration that you have not, and do not intend to, to submit anything like the manuscript anywhere else.
    “THEY generated to begin with” fits the authors, it being for one time use unless explicitly stated as otherwise.

    • Jon Beckmann August 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm

      Nobody should sign such an agreement. I never sign it, and neither do my friends.

      • AnonEditor August 14, 2012 at 8:13 am

        I am very surprised at that last comment, as I am unaware of an STM publisher who does not ask authors to confirm, in one wording or another, that anything submitted is original work and not being considered for publication anywhere else.

        It is also interesting to see the divide in the community, between those who feel all articles should be original, and that re-using old review material is bad practice, and those who feel the text belongs to the authors who should be able to re-use it as they please.

      • David Hardman August 14, 2012 at 9:35 am

        In reply to Jon Beckmann August 12, 2012 at 6:47 pm

        “Nobody should sign such an agreement. I never sign it, and neither do my friends.”

        Many thanks for enlightening me about a task that perhaps does not need to be done.
        As further help in avoiding this task could you please name a small selection of journals where you do not need to sign a declaration that the work submitted is original and that you do not intend submitting anything like it elsewhere. I hope that is not too much trouble.

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