Retraction prompts letter of explanation by co-author — and a legal threat against Retraction Watch
The European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging has an interesting exchange of retraction-related notices in its pages.
The article, “Neuroradiological advances detect abnormal neuroanatomy underlying neuropsychological impairments: the power of PET imaging,” appeared in 2011 and was written by Benjamin Hayempour and Abass Alavi, one of the pioneers in PET imaging.
According to the retraction notice:
This article has been withdrawn at the request of the Editor-in-Chief of European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging owing to the unexplained close similarity of some passages to parts of a previous publication [Rushing SE, Langleben DD. Relative function: Nuclear brain imaging in United States courts. J Psychiatry Law 2011; 39 (winter): 567–93].
Alavi followed the retraction notice with a letter detailing his version of events:
It has come to my attention that an article published in this journal, entitled “Neuroradiological advances detect abnormal neuroanatomy underlying neuropsychological impairments: the power of PET imaging,” has been retracted owing to similarities to a previous publication in the literature [1,2]. I wish to emphasize that this communication totally reflected my views and concepts about the role of PET imaging in assessment of neuropsychiatric disorders. However, I was not aware that passages from another paper had been included without proper citation, nor did I have any reason to suspect that this had happened.
Although I am confident that the science behind our work was sound, the improper use of other authors’ work–whether intentional or not–is not at all acceptable. It is unfortunate that the utility of this review article for the medical community has been compromised in such a way, but I give my full support to the Editor-in-Chief and stand behind his decision to retract the article owing to the close similarity of some passages to parts of a previous publication. Neglecting to confirm the originality of the text by using a plagiarism prevention service prior to publication was a regrettable oversight that I will not let happen again. The availability of plagiarism detection software or other means for authors to identify such unethical behavior in the future will substantially improve our ability to scrutinize contributions in advance of publication.
Alavi’s certainly correct, but it’s hard to tell if he’s taking the blame for poor oversight — or a shot at the journal here for not doing a good job screening the manuscript. Alavi apparently has more than 1,000 publications to his name. That’s 20 a year since 1964, when he received his MD.
Susan Rushing, a doctor-laywer at Penn and a co-author on the plagiarized article, which was not cited in the now-retracted paper, told us she saw the misused text when a colleague pointed out the paper as something she might want to read. The passages were
cut and pasted from a paper that I wrote.
However, both Rushing and Alavi said they believed the plagiarism was merely a lack of understanding about proper citation practice, not malicious intent. Rushing says:
I think everybody would have felt better about it had there been a citation. I think it was likely an oversight.
We’ve covered many cases like this, and Rushing’s attitude is one for which we have some sympathy, particularly when very junior researchers are involved.
However, after speaking with Hayempour, now a master’s student at UC Berkeley/UC San Francisco, we’re not sure we know the whole story. Hayempour said he was merely an “undergraduate lab rat” for Alavi and did nothing more than type the manuscript using text provided by others. He sounded somewhat overwhelmed by events, adding that he has pleaded his case to both Penn ethics officials and the journal:
I’ve been taking the heat for this for quite a while…
But when we tried to probe further, he threatened to sue us — a threat soon followed by this letter from a Los Angeles real estate attorney named Eyal Aharonov. In an email, Aharonov said he would sue us on behalf of his client not just because we were publishing something on this, but because we were corresponding with the people involved — in other words, trying to get the facts straight:
Our law firm has been retained by Benjamin Hayempour regarding legal action he and his colleagues (the “Group”) wish to pursue against you individually and against your publication.
It has come to our attention that you wish to draft and publish a sensationalized article regarding the Group. You intend on compiling falsified and dramatized accounts of the Group’s research activities and publish your article on the internet.
Please refer to this letter as specific notice of our law firm’s intent to pursue legal action against you if you do not cease and desist correspondence with members of the Group. Furthermore, should you decide to move forward and publish a story about the Group which intends to undermine or defame them, we will pursue a defamation suit against you, on the basis of libel which is intentionally and actually causing harm to the Group’s reputation, as well as actual damages in the form of Mr. Hayempour’s employment.
You may additionally be liable for attorney’s fees as they relate to this matter. We strongly suggest that you end all communication with anyone related to the Group.
A formal letter with a draft complaint will be sent to you shortly. Should you have any additional questions, please feel free to call our offices.
Thank you for your time.
And in a follow-up:
Regardless of your opinions about what is public or not, you face legal action regarding this matter. It is not within your rights to fabricate a narrative that will draw viewership to your article.
We intend to protect our clients to the fullest extent of the law. Should you wish to continue disparaging my clients, I assure you that you will face legal ramifications. This warning and notice is a courtesy to you.”
Update, 12/4/2013; 10:30 p.m. Eastern: Hayempour has claimed that we misquoted him. Our notes demonstrate that his quotations accurately reflect our conversation and we stand by the post. We have offered him and others involved in this story a chance to comment further and will update this post as warranted.