Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

A retraction cluster? Two papers retracted for overlap with other retractions

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molecular biology reportA cluster of papers by different authors has been retracted for sharing text, even though some papers were submitted at the same time.

How is that possible? A spokesperson for Springer told us that they have reason to believe a third-party company may have helped prepare the papers for publication, and in the process might have spread the material around to multiple manuscripts.

The details of the cluster are a bit perplexing, so bear with us. Two of the papers — that were published only months apart — have already been retracted, as we reported in April. Now, two other papers have been retracted from Molecular Biology Reports — and both notices cite the previously retracted papers. The new notices also say that there’s reason to believe that the peer-review process was compromised.

All papers conclude that a certain polymorphism could signal a risk for coronary artery disease among Chinese people.

We’ll start with the retraction notice for “Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms and coronary artery disease: a case control study,” which cites the two papers that were retracted previously:

The Editor-in-Chief of Molecular Biology Reports retracts the above-mentioned article per the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines on plagiarism. The article duplicates (copies) significant paragraphs from the following main source/sources:

Lan Ma, Haifeng Zhang, Carrie Han, Danian Tong, Meiyan Zhang, Yi’an Yao, Yu Luo, and Xuebo Liu, Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 4 Polymorphisms and Susceptibility to Coronary Artery Disease, DNA and Cell Biology. June 2012, 31(6): 1064-1069. doi:10.1089/dna.2011.1552.

Chen H, Tong J, Zou T, Shi H, Liu J, Du X, Yang J, Ma C, Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms are associated with coronary artery disease. Genet Test Mol Biomarkers, 16:952–956, 2012.

These two articles were submitted within a relatively short time from each other which constitutes duplicate submission. In addition, further investigation showed irregularities in the peer review process leading us to believe that the peer review process was compromised.

The paper has been cited seven times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. Along with the previously retracted papers, this one was published in 2012, so it’s hard to tell who took material from whom — or exactly how.

The fourth paper seems to constitute a more clear-cut case of plagiarism, as it was published in 2014. Here’s the retraction notice that paper, “Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms and the prognosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma,”

The Editor-in-Chief of Molecular Biology Reports retracts the above-mentioned article per the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines on plagiarism and related questionable writing practices. The article uses as a template substantial portions of text of which a large part have been paraphrased in order to describe another association of FGFR4 polymorphisms with a disease (NHL versus CAD) from the following source(s):

Lan Ma, Haifeng Zhang, Carrie Han, Danian Tong, Meiyan Zhang, Yi’an Yao, Yu Luo, and Xuebo Liu, Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms and susceptibility to coronary artery disease, DNA and Cell Biology. June 2012, 31(6): 1064–1069. doi:10.1089/dna.2011.1552.

Qing Zhu, Tongtao Liu, Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms and coronary artery disease: a case control study, Molecular Biology Reports, June 2012, 39(9): 8679–8685. doi:10.1007/s11033-012-1723-8.

HF Zhang, KJ Zhao, PF Yang, YB Fang, YH Zhang, JM Liu and QH Huang, Association between fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 Gly388Arg polymorphism and ischaemic stroke, The Journal of International Medical Research, October 2012, 40(5): 1708–1714. doi:10.1177/030006051204000509.

Chen H, Tong J, Zou T, Shi H, Liu J, Du X, Yang J, Ma C, Fibroblast growth factor receptor 4 polymorphisms are associated with coronary artery disease. Genet Test Mol Biomarkers, 16:952–956, 2012.

In addition, further investigation showed irregularities in the peer review process leading us to believe that the peer review process was compromised.

The paper has been cited twice.

Given the fact that three papers were published around the same time, we suspected a third party company might be involved, which might have shared some material between the papers. Though we still don’t know exactly what happened, a spokesperson for Springer, which publishes Molecular Biology Reports, told us that:

We have strong reason to believe there was involvement from a third party.

We’ve been seeing more problems arising from the use of these types of companies. We’ve struggled to find details about individual companies, but recently learned of one, EditPub, that sells editorial services such as peer review (even though the website includes pictures of Martin Scorsese and Henry Kissinger as expert scientists.)

This case has another wrinkle — there’s actually a fifth paper in the cluster. We’ve unearthed a 2014 correction for one of the papers mentioned in the second notice, which says it also borrowed from another article. Here’s the notice for the paper, which was published in The Journal of International Medical Research in 2012 and cited one time:

HF Zhang, KJ Zhao, PF Yang, et al. ‘Association between Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 4 Gly388Arg Polymorphism and Ischaemic Stroke’ Journal of International Medical Research October 2012 vol. 40 no. 5 1708–1714. DOI:10.1177/030006051204000509

contains material which overlaps with a previously published article. Readers are referred to:

Lan Ma, Haifeng Zhang, Carrie Han, et al. ‘Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 4 Polymorphisms and Susceptibility to Coronary Artery Disease’ DNA and Cell Biology.June 2012, 31(6): 1064–1069. DOI: 10.1089/dna.2011.155

That “previously published article” should sound familiar by now — it’s one of the previously retracted articles we reported on earlier this year, and has appeared in a total of three notices in this post.

We’ve reached out to a few editors listed at The Journal of International Medical Research for more information — was a third party also involved in this paper?

We have also contacted a few authors involved in the Molecular Biology Reports papers: the corresponding authors on the 2014 paper, Baohua Qian, listed at Second Military Medical University, and Haihan Song, affiliated with Tongji University; and to the corresponding author on the 2012 paper, Tongtao Liu, affiliated with Shandong University. We’ll update this post with anything else we learn. 

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