Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Medical journal guilty of citation manipulation retracts two “inadequate” review articles

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clinicsThe Brazilian medical journal Clinics — edited by the Faculdade de Medicina of the University of São Paulo — has lost two more papers in a citation stacking scheme that cost one of the authors his job as editor of the publication.

The first paper, by former editor Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva and Ariane Gomes, was titled “An overview of recently published medical papers in Brazilian scientific journals,” and was published in 2011. As the retraction notice states:

The article specified below is retracted. It is an inadequate review of recently published articles that appeared in Brazilian scientific publications, contains no original results, and was written for the information of readers of Clinics. The authors have been notified and agree with the retraction.

Silva MR, Gomes A. An overview of recently published medical papers in Brazilian scientific journals. Clinics. 2011;66(11):1975–82.

The second paper, by Gomes and two other researchers, and from the subsequent edition of Clinics, was titled “A survey of recently published cardiovascular, hematological and pneumological original articles in the Brazilian scientific press.” According to the retraction notice:

The article specified below is retracted. It is an inadequate review of recently published articles that appeared in Brazilian scientific publications, contains no original results, and was written for the information of readers of Clinics. The authors have been notified and agree with the retraction.

Patel K, Caramelli B, Gomes A. A survey of recently published cardiovascular, hematological and pneumological original articles in the Brazilian scientific press. Clinics. 2011;66(12):2159–68.

Here’s the abstract of the first paper:

A brief review intended as information to the readership of Clinics on papers recently published under various medical headings in Brazilian scientific journals recently indexed or about to be indexed in ISI-THOMSON Journal Citation Reports. Journals covered in this review are Acta Ortopédica Brasileira, Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia, Revista Brasileira de Cirurgia Cardiovascular and Revista da Associação Médica Brasileira.

The authors looked at 80 previously published articles and broke them into a variety of headings. Same idea for the second article:

Recent original scientific contributions published in selected Brazilian periodicals and classifiable under cardiovascular and pulmonary subject categories cover a wide range of sub specialties, both clinical and exprimental. Because they appear in journals with only recently enhanced visibility, we have decided to highlight a number of specific items appeared in four Brazilian journals, because we understand that this is an important subsidy to keep our readership adequately informed. These papers cover extensive sub-areas in both fields.

As Nature’s Richard van Noorden reported about the plan back in August:

Mauricio Rocha-e-Silva thought that he had spotted an easy way to raise the profiles of Brazilian journals. From 2009, he and several other editors published articles containing hundreds of references to papers in each others’ journals — in order, he says, to elevate the journals’ impact factors.

Because each article avoided citing papers published by its own journal, the agreement flew under the radar of analyses that spot extremes in self-citation — until 19 June, when the pattern was discovered. Thomson Reuters, the firm that calculates and publishes the impact factor, revealed that it had designed a program to spot concentrated bursts of citations from one journal to another, a practice that it has dubbed ‘citation stacking’. Four Brazilian journals were among 14 to have their impact factors suspended for a year for such stacking. And in July, Rocha-e-Silva was fired from his position as editor of one of them, the journal Clinics, based in São Paulo.

“We’ve been caught wrong-footed,” says Rocha-e-Silva, a retired physiologist. The editors of the other three Brazilian journals collared by Thomson Reuters remain in place. In addition to these four journals, “there are a few others which played a part in this game, and they escaped”, he says.

Clinics, for its part, seems to be trying to make a new breast of things. A statement on the journal’s web site speaks of “recent facts” and a restructuring of the publication.


Written by amarcus41

November 14th, 2013 at 9:30 am

  • amw November 14, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Extraordinary how corrupted people’s agendas can become, when at the outset the idea of science was to hunt for truth.

    I’m not sure which would be harder – trying to explain to a layman why these people did what they did, or trying to explain the rules of cricket to a Brazilian.

    Very depressing…

  • DEUS ex MACHINA November 14, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Although brazilian science can be amazingly corrupted and degenerated by its own delusional vortex of incompetence and haughtiness, this example does not reflects the full reality of our brazilian colleagues in day-by-day basis. But high ranked MD professors from institutions such as USP, UNICAMP, FMRP,etc. have the great ablity to push flawed data (and concepts) beyond the limits of mediocrity. Really. Then, all those push overs (raised carefully) in their labs will reign in the brazilian scientific mainstream for years, some of them more than the others, contributing or not to a real, logical scientific progress. As an example of the brazilian reality, we’re ranked 20°ish in terms of H index considering all subjects in science ( Same for Immunology, Engineering, etc etc etc . We are not relevant enough (or yet), and people like those Clinics guys just don’t help at all.

    • Jennifer Lopez November 14, 2013 at 2:48 pm

      (@DEUS) I don’t understand why you are talking so bad about brazilian science… Wherever you are, for sure you could never publish 81 papers in less than 11 months… (2013 has not ended yet… could be more!)
      How many papers did you publish in 2012? something close to 83? DOn’t think so…

      Do u think I’m joking? Take a look:

      …Ok some of the papers were published at Clinics journal and other mentioned in the RW post… but who cares?

      Stop complaining about Brazil and try to publish more!! That’s science!

      • Rolf Degen November 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm

        So what! I am rather sure that Diederik Stapel, a guy from my field of interest, could top that – if we let him. And he has more life time citations:

      • DEUS ex MACHINA November 14, 2013 at 5:28 pm

        You didn’t understand anything, right? So publish more, and more, and more, like CAPES want you to. And ho is this guy, really. Relevance is not necessarily measured by numbers. If your are one of those push overs, please, just try to make things a little bit better in our beloved country. While we take 6 months to have a QIAGEN kit nd we pay 3X more to have an antibody from SIGMA (in no less than 3 months) you really think I care about this Mr Who you showed us, like one would show the divine light?

        • Jennifer Lopez November 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm

          My comment tried to be ironic…. Sorry, actually i’m totally agree with u,
          I promise that i will never be ironic again… 🙁
          Sincerely yours,

          • DEUS ex MACHINA November 14, 2013 at 5:51 pm

            Just brainstorming, really. CNPq stole my humour… Sorry! =)

          • CR November 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm

            I could see the irony, and it just hit the spot. Indeed, we have “scientists” in Brazil publishing over 50 papers a years and some as 1st-2nd author. They rule Brazilian scientific production, flooding the literature with doubtful data, and calling the shots at department celebrations. Our country is fascinated by numbers, since “bigger=better” is easy to understand… and boast. Now scientific community cannot ignore us anymore.
            It doesn’t mean all Brazilian scientists are corrupted, but it does mean it pays off being a corrupted scientist (or whatever you carve) in Brazil. Linking this to the first comment on this thread, it wouldn’t be hard to explain for a Brazilian the rule of cricket, but the hard part would be convincing him that rules are truly important in practice.

          • CR November 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm

            BTW, JLo, your guy there is nothing! Check out the one below, possibly our “champion”.


            I look into their pictures and I only see politicians.

          • Jennifer Lopez November 14, 2013 at 7:43 pm

            Woooowww!! Unbelievable….
            But probably he deserves that, he travelled to the future and published four papers in 2014… Amazing

          • Marco November 15, 2013 at 4:38 am

            Actually, several journals have already published 2014 issues online with full bibliographic information, so it isn’t because he went back to the future, but because the journals are a bit odd in their publication schedule.

          • Harp November 15, 2013 at 5:37 am

            Also impressive this one guy below


            He is, well, only a “kid” with almost 200 papers.

          • Jennifer Lopez November 15, 2013 at 6:46 am
        • DEUS ex MACHINA November 15, 2013 at 10:20 am

          The kid there: he’s in the editorial board of Parasites & Vectors, with 20 articles published there. Is it, REALLY, ok ?

          • Shirley Ainsworth November 15, 2013 at 11:38 am

            As he publishes so many articles he seems to do quite a bit of self-citing as well. Scopus data: 1,333 total cites, but 900 without his own self-cites. This is like 32%!

          • Jennifer Lopez November 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

            Wooww (again)!!
            However, he published only a minor fraction (13%) of his production there…

          • Shirley Ainsworth November 15, 2013 at 11:53 am

            The 5 most prolific authors published in Parasites and Vectors appear to be on the editorial board as well, OTRANTO D 33 3.170 % of total articles
            ZHU XQ 24 2.305 %
            DANTAS-TORRES F 21 2.017 %
            ZHOU XN 20 1.921 %
            UTZINGER J 18 1.729 %
            data from Web of Science. Would seem to be rather highly represented.

    • DEUS ex MACHINA November 15, 2013 at 5:42 am

      CR, they ARE politicians! Not real scientists (not anymore). Some of those guys don’t even know how to set a real protocol for clinical trials (saw it many times). No notion at all on statistics etc etc etc. I don’t even talk about essential molecular mechanisms, modern immunological/biochemical techniques and so one. So, again, what’s the point, you see? Rui Curi is one of them, and we know very well what happened. How can we trust or publish in a journal such as Clinics?

      • Jennifer Lopez November 15, 2013 at 6:50 am

        (ironic mode on)
        Compared with the example below, Rui Curi’s manipulations could be considered “honest errors”

        • DEUS ex MACHINA November 15, 2013 at 8:00 am


          • JATdS November 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

            Perhaps JLo and Deus ex Machina could do us a favor and explain, in some detail, how Brazilian researchers are financially remunerated (research funds, salaries, positions) based on the impact factor of journals and/or the international reputation of the editor board (I often see Brazilians on the editor boards of many predatory open access journals listed on Beall’s I have some idea about the system, but to prove abuse or corruption within it, you have to always follow the money trailbecause usually greed is associated with power and/or money and/or productivity. How does CNPq and CAPES fit into this “scheme”? It would be helpful to have factual information (values, tables of remuneration, etc.) to make this debate meaningful, even if in Portuguese. And if you could give some perspective about the South American panorama, that would be useful (the Scielo vs Redalyc OA platforms already reveal great similarities and differences).

          • DT November 15, 2013 at 6:07 pm

            CNPq, for instance, classified researchers in a rank of 1A-D to 2. You won more money if you are 1A than 1B and so on, and this is mainly due number of papers published (any journal with impact >3.8 it is considered high profile by CNPq). But this classification is also valid to get grants etc

          • CR November 15, 2013 at 7:14 pm

            The ranking of scientists from 2-1A is dependent on a series of metrics which change from time to time. The amount of funding received by each layer is disproportionate, with the 1As getting the gross available funding in their field and also deciding as reviewers on who is going to get the rest. This dependency on the 1As causes people to do whatever pleases them and avoid any conflict. Public money for research funding can be easily redirected to other ends if one understands how it works, and thus funding for one project very frequently ends up in another project, if not directly into someone’s pocket. So being an 1A means you are given a lot of honors (back-scratching), power, and obviously, money in your life.

            In the case of Brazilian scientists joining editorial boards, there are many reasons for this. One is prestige, as few years ago being an editor was considered a great achievement. Nowadays, with the proliferation of publishers and all, it is losing the glamour. Also for young students being editor of periodicals is frequently much valued upon a professorship contest. Moreover, and principally in the long-term, it is very common of Brazilian authors to rely on Brazilian editors to facilitate the acceptance of their papers, frequently by bypassing peer-review. Since a brazilian scientist needs to publish many papers to get his funding, this adds interest to the position of the editor: a Brazilian editor knows his colleagues will appeal to his upon submission, and that his “favour” could be retributed somehow (e.g. inclusion as author in other papers). Upon careful analysis one will frequently find a Brazilian editor, for instance, in the periodicals in which Curi’s (1A) questioned papers got published. This settles the “oh how did this get through peer-review” impression. Being an editor of any journal with IF above 3.8 is a much desired position.

            To summarise, the system revolves based on no. of publications + impact factor + exchange of favours.

          • Jennifer Lopez November 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm

            Dear JATdS,
            I don´t think I can give you the detailed info that you would like… I suppose that DEUS ex MACHINA is able to explain better this kind of stuff (based on his frequent comments at RW).
            For sure there are several factors that contribute to Brazilian scientific situation. Just to cite one of them, and as you might know, in brazil rules a model in which quantity is far far far more important that quality… and that´s not only at the level of published articles. CAPES rates PhD programs not only based on the number of articles, but also on the number of students.
            A minimum number of students MUST earn a PhD/master degree in a period of time for the graduation program to mantain the CAPES rating. As a result, it is frequent that PIs recruit students without necessity to perform weak projects, probably developed in a few hours and easily approved by the founding agencies. In many cases, they have to take students without a good educational base, just to fill up the CAPES requirements. Furthermore, there exists the (mis)notion that science is for everybody… everybody can enter a lab and begin pippeting, no matter what their background is. For example, in most (if not all) brazilian labs you can find nurses, physiotherapists, Physical Education teachers working in basic science… and PIs recruiting unprepared people become parties of this crazy game…
            Just to cite an example, do you remember the papers from Rui Curi that were posted at Science Fraud? The first author of one of them that was finally corrected (, was undergraduated as Physical Education teacher, the program of his undergraduate course is: … If you have your own lab, why would you take somebody that (might be brilliant) but has not the basic knowledge. BTW, one of this guy classes was on ethics…

            In summary, What do you end up with? Labs crowded with students that are totally unprepared and must finish their PhD degrees (and publish articles) in as much as 4 years (a student that spends more than 4 years compromisses the CAPES rating of the program).

            Regarding the money trail,we know where money come from… It would be also important to know where this money ends. I wonder how much brazil consumes of reagents/equipment in comparison with other countries, where the quality of science is supposed to be better… After the comments on this post, there is not much doubts, that Brazil is an important contributor for publishers…

  • DEUS ex MACHINA November 16, 2013 at 5:01 am

    DT, CR and JLo added much to what I would say. We do have excellent scientists, leaders of international societies, who contribute a lot to the their scientific millieu.Some top guys in Immunology, Neuroscience and Physics are indeed, relevant. But brazilian science is not. I’m on biomedical sciences so good examples are those from people using plant extracts in everything and publishing loads of junk, getting money from CNPq, and perpetuating the model. It would be important if they were investing efforts in the purification of these natural products, publishing patentsm but they are not. Brazilian scientists struggle to find a place to work. Ou static system give too little possibilities, so you start in Academia giving too many classes and have no time at all, and need to be protected and use the structure from someone else (the godfather). Sometimes it lasts forever. There is a lack of great institutes, and some of the biggests, like FIOCRUZ and EMBRAPA, are not producing better than the universities! They are even more politically biased! Really. The government is giving now loads of money to MSc, undergrads and PhDs to go abroad (but to come back to inexpensive, unproductive labs). Lots of them profit from the experience, most part of them are professional tourists. The system works pretty well for the groups that are already working, if you know what I mean. New guys struggle to have a certain independence. Moreover, due to the poor import/export politics, the big groups are favoured from their international network to obtain goods for their research. New groups take 6 months to have a simple ELISA kit. Don’t really think the money in science go to the pockets, don’t really think so. But it is flexible money. You can use whatever you want, whenever you want. You just need to produce. Salary and career progress is OKish, but CNPq grants scientits (asDT mentioned, the scale) not that bad if they produce large amounts of papers (quality is irrelevant, really). They say that they are changing, all the time, but they are not. This is Brazil.

    • CR November 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Just on the money going to pockets, let me clarify what I meant.

      I have seen many a case in which some researcher (from top brazilian universities) got apartments refurbished, new furniture and computer hard/soft/ware, and long trips with wife to touristic locations (national or international), etc, totally from public project funding. Sometimes a whole department gets the benefit from a joint funding application. Also it was quite common to put the grant money in some bank fund to generate interest rates back (which I suppose were not spent on reagents). This is quite easy to do since as long as there is an invoice or official stamp on whatever excuse to where the money went in the finances report, no further questions are asked (especially to 1As).

      I am really happy to hear that DEUS has never seen this, but I am afraid a careful second look and nosy questions might reveal a lot. Unfortunately public money in Brazil (which is an unbelievable lot of money) is usually managed like this in every field, and most people accept this as the natural thing to do (or maybe do not see it happening in front of their eyes).

      • JATdS November 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm

        I want to thank JLo, CR, Deus ex Machina and DT for these extremely insightful comments about the situation in Brazil. May I suggest that you perhaps gather this valuable repository of information, link up with some high profile scientists in different fields who actually appear to care as much about publishing ethics as you do, and publish a purely factual report on the state of science publishing in Brazil. Even if mainstream publishers are not receptive to the paper, some other excellent (but unfortunately expensive) avenues of expression exist, such as F1000 Research or the PLoS journals (despite criticisms about them). If scientists that are concerned about these issues, and who hold a great treasure of national knowledge and understanding about the science+political strings of their country, are able to publish such a paper, then such a document would constitute a purely historical document, much more valuable than any IF score. Is it not important to be art of history as well as being part of science? Espero bem que possam ir avante com esta sugestao (trans: I hope that you will be able to advance with this idea).

        • CR November 17, 2013 at 3:15 pm

          Geez, taking part in such act would be political/professional/perhaps-physical suicide for any scientist inside the country. Just by mentioning such things openly one runs into great danger of retaliation. Fighting injustice in Brazil is usually a solitary and unpopular fight against everyone else.

      • DEUS ex MACHINA November 17, 2013 at 5:41 am

        I understand now your point, CR. I saw it, at different degrees of shame, but it is a reality. Now they are trying to put the money under the control of an “institute” inside the big universities, so all the purchases must pass through these guys. However, it is not obligatory! It’s a good choice since they will manage the money and make quotes for your purchases, but it doens’t help that much: the SIGMA reagent will still take 3 months to arrive. It is nice to discuss these points here, beyond the “tea time” chat we usually have among people from the “good side”. But, as CR might confirm, all those points raised above are, indeed, our reality.

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