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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Authors retract “one-center” cancer study for plagiarizing from…another center

with 12 comments

The World Journal of Surgical Oncology has posted the retraction of a 2010 article by Italian researchers who lifted substantial parts of their text from a group that had published on the same topic seven years earlier.

The article, “Colon and rectal surgery for cancer without mechanical bowel preparation: one-center randomized prospective trial,” came from a group of surgical oncologists at San Martino Hospital in Genoa led by Stefano Scabini, who is listed in other publications as chief of the service.

According to the notice:

The authors have retracted this article (Scabini et al) because it contains large portions of text that have been duplicated from another article previously published in Annals of Surgery (Zmora et al). The authors apologise to the Editors and readers as well as the authors of the original article.

The study has been cited six times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The abstracts of the two papers are indeed quite similar (plagiarism, not duplication, is the right word here).

From the Scabini article:

Patients undergoing elective colon and rectal resections with primary anastomosis were prospectively randomized into two groups. Group A had mechanical bowel preparation with polyethylene glycol before surgery, and group B had their surgery without preoperative mechanical bowel preparation. Patients were followed up for 30 days for wound, anastomotic, and intra-abdominal infectious complications.

From the 2003 Zmora paper (the first author is Oded Zmora, of Sheba Medical Center in Israel):

Patients undergoing elective colon and rectal resections with primary anastomosis were prospectively randomized into two groups. Group A had mechanical bowel preparation with polyethylene glycol before surgery, and group B had their surgery without preoperative mechanical bowel preparation. Patients were followed up for 30 days for wound, anastomotic, and intra-abdominal infectious complications.

Scabini:

These results suggest that elective colon and rectal surgery may be safely performed without mechanical preparation.

Zmora:

These results suggest that elective colon and rectal surgery may be safely performed without mechanical preparation.

The two papers contain different numbers of patients — 244 in the Scabini study, 187 in the Zmora trial — and there’s no indication in the notice that the Italian group made up their data. The Scabini paper does not cite the Zmora article.

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12 Responses

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  1. does not cite? ;)

    Pippo

    September 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    • Yeah..conveniently not cited ;-) Well, it does look like Plagiarism as many of the text passages are lifted from the previous paper. Simply changing the number of samples (patients) does not constitute it as a brand new work.

      disillusioned_academic

      September 25, 2012 at 11:56 pm

      • He probably means the typo in the last sentence.

        chirality

        September 26, 2012 at 1:30 am

    • Fixed, thanks!

      ivanoransky

      September 26, 2012 at 2:24 pm

  2. Not knowing the people involved, but knowing several good Italian researchers with better science than English skills, in these cases I wonder whether it’s more an issue of “I found a clear and well-written sentence in plain English that perfectly describes what we did, so let’s not re-invent the wheel”.
    I mean, they are supposed to be good at clinical trials, not at writing (we all prefer a badly written but well-designed study, I guess).

    What’s wrong with this study, I’d say, is the omission concerning the citation of the 2003 study, but particularly because not citing the previous study means providing the readers with an incomplete picture of the field studied (since of course they did know about it).

    And I ask, in part jokingly: does the new field of “retractionology” risk to be the victim of the current availability of easy electronic tools to spot plagiarism, so that now we focus on minor – or even irrelevant – aspects just because we can see them, and start forgetting that what we are *really* looking for is *bad science* (whether in good or in bad faith).

    Fabio Turone

    September 26, 2012 at 3:53 am

    • Of course they did not want to re-invent just the wheel. What they did is comparable to re-inventing the cart, its four wheels, the horse, and the bucket of manure. And they knew full well that all these things had been invented before but somehow hoped nobody would notice. I bet that they did not lift the title from the original paper. It probably was not “a clear and well-written sentence in plain English that perfectly describes what we did”.

      chirality

      September 26, 2012 at 7:15 am

      • I agree that this particular case is most likely in the field of low-quality science, because they pretended not knowing that an identical study had been published already, and didn’t cite it.

        I am trying to reflect on the social context favouring such practices.
        We all know that any single study needs to be replicated and confirmed, so it’s a limit of science and scientific publishing to put a prize on originality and dismiss as “plagiarizing others ideas” the annoying repetition of someone else’s original experiments.

        It’s important for science – and subsequent systematic reviews – to have many patients from several centers to draw stronger conclusions.

        My point is that copying-pasting text in English in a scholarly (non-literary) journal should be considered a minor offense for a non-English mothertongue.

        Fabio Turone

        September 26, 2012 at 7:39 am

  3. An additional case of plagiarism by Scabini and Ferrando has recently been revealed by Timothy M. Pawlik , Editor-in-Chief of the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery.
    He wrote:
    “Dear readers,
In the February 2012 issue of the World J Gastrointest Surg (4(2):32-35) Scabini and Ferrando published an editorial entitled “Number of lymph nodes after neoadjuvant therapy for rectal cancer: how many are needed?”. It has been brought to our attention that segments of the editorial are identical or closely resemble the essential parts of the discussion of the original article “Preoperative chemoradiotherapy does not necessarily reduce lymph node retrieval in rectal cancer specimens – Results from a prospective evaluation with extensive pathological work-up” that was published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery in 2009. Given the striking similarities of the two works, the World J Gastrointest Surg has decided to retract the editorial by Scabini and Ferrando.”
    As usual,
    Scabini and Ferrando “forgot” to cite the authors of the original paper (Thilo Sprenger, et al.) suggesting that the problem is not merely limited to poor knowledge of medical English but even throwing doubts on the data set of the present “one center randomized study”. Scabini and Ferrando should undergo scrutiny by the San Martino Hospital and local medical authorities.

    Dario

    November 14, 2012 at 5:12 am

  4. In reply to Fabio Turone September 26, 2012 at 3:53 am
    who wrote:

    “My point is that copying-pasting text in English in a scholarly (non-literary) journal should be considered a minor offense for a non-English mothertongue.”

    I think that the authors were copying-pasting text which was not theirs, i.e. plagiarism.

    Literary journals are quite strict on the matter.

    http://www.wordsinhere.com/orderversal.html

    See section: Nota Bene and payment (understandable to any post-Roman) in the guidelines.

    “We do not consider work that has already been published. This includes work that is available online (e.g. via a blog or online journal).”

    I think that includes work that has already been published by one group of authors and then copied and pasted by another group of writers and then published. There may be a problem with understanding categories.

    Why should non-literary (scholarly, a euphemism for people who cannot tell interesting stories somemight say) maintain lower standards?

    Fernando Pessoa

    November 14, 2012 at 8:35 am

    • Because the readers of literary journals look at the words, while the readers of technical press such as medical journals look at the data: they want to treat people, not enjoy the reading.
      Maybe one should introduce a form of aknolwdgement such as:

      “We are indebted to Shakespeare et al. for the clear and exact description of the crossmedial technique for the Resection of Pulmonary Metastases of Head and Neck Cancer, that we borrowed from their [ref]”

      I think that clinical reseachers are not supposed to reinvent the wheel in English every time (or to change the original effective description at the risk of resulting confusing for the surgeons reading the paper).

      Fabio Turone

      November 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

      • In reply to Fabio Turone November 14, 2012 at 8:44 am

        I think that you are confusing a whole class of people who do not know when to put their pens down, and when not to use the cut and paste keys, with clinical researchers.

        Researchers, clinical or otherwise, are meant to find their own words and own data.
        If they have data they should have more than enough to describe in their own words,
        and to relate it to what is already known, give an indication of the meaning, and something of the implications. That’s the point.

        I do not speak for clinical reseachers, but many do know the literature quite well and know how to cite it.

        If there is nothing new that is an important thing to know. How refreshing and informative it would be to read,
        “in the last ten years there have been no new advances in field X”.

        The acknowledgement you give is not a bad one. The only problem is that if people
        did use such formulations too often the editors and reviewers would not accept the manuscript.

        Fernando Pessoa

        November 14, 2012 at 9:26 am

      • Ah, but in that case you are not referring to allowing non-native English speakers to copy-paste some things, but *everyone*, regardless of their proficiency in English.

        Note that my experience is that many scientists who copy-paste significant parts from others don’t really know what the meaning is of what they copy-pasted. I’ve found my share of hilarious contradictions, students who could not explain what a particular sentence actually meant, scientists who just copied an outright error, including an incorrect reference, etc. etc.

        Marco

        November 14, 2012 at 9:34 am


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