Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Fraud by bone researcher takes down two meta-analyses, a clinical trial, and review

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The troubles continue for a bone researcher, who’s lost multiple papers in recent months due to problems ranging from data issues to including authors without their consent.

Now, journals have retracted two more papers by Yoshihiro Sato. And in a sign of the downstream effects that fraud can have, another journal has retracted two meta-analyses by other authors that cited his work.

Earlier this month, the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion retracted the two meta-analyses because they were based on recently retracted papers by Sato, affiliated with Mitate Hospital. The two new retractions of Sato’s papers are a review and a randomized controlled trial.

Sato was not an author on the meta-analyses published in 2008 and 2011; he was, however, first and lead author on all the retracted papers referenced in the notices. The notices state that the trio of authors on the meta-analyses:

…acted in good faith, and performed their meta-analysis without cognisance of the concerns with respect to data integrity.

The retraction notices for the meta-analyses mention a recent Neurology paper by Mark Bolland of the University of Auckland and colleagues, which cast doubt on 33 of Sato’s studies. As we reported, Bolland’s report flagged patterns in the 33 randomized clinical trials–including “errors in reported data, misleading text, duplicated data and text, and uncertainties about ethical oversight”–that called the results into question. Bolland’s analysis includes the recently retracted randomized controlled trial.

Here’s the retraction notice for the first retracted meta-analysis:

Following a number of recent retractions of all four randomized controlled trials this meta-analysis is based on, the lead author of the underlying trials has taken full responsibility for the fraud, and requested their retraction. Concerns about the data integrity were originally raised by Bolland et. al. [1 Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Grey A. Systematic review and statistical analysis of the integrity of 33 randomized controlled trials. Neurology 2016;87:2391–2402.[CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]] who used complex statistical methods that have been demonstrated as helping to uncover potentially fraudulent behavior on a large scale. Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Grey A. Systematic review and statistical analysis of the integrity of 33 randomized controlled trials. Neurology 2016;87:2391–2402.[CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar] We note the breach of warranties made by the underlying study author, Dr Yoshihiro Sato, with respect to originality and provenance, and of our policy on publishing ethics and integrity. We also note Dr Jun Iwamoto, Dr Tsuyoshi Takeda and Dr Hideo Matsumoto contend that they acted in good faith, and performed their meta-analysis without cognisance of the concerns with respect to data integrity. Further, we note we received, peer-reviewed, accepted, and published the article in good faith based on these warranties, and censure this action. We have been informed in our decision-making by the guidance of COPE guidelines on retractions.

Efficacy of risedronate against hip fracture in patients with neurological diseases: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” was published in 2008, and has been cited five times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

Here’s the next, similarly worded, notice for “Efficacy of oral bisphosphonates for preventing hip fracture in disabled patients with neurological diseases: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials among the Japanese population:”

Following a number of recent retractions of all four randomized controlled trials this meta-analysis is based on, the lead author of these trials has taken full responsibility for the fraud, and requested their retraction. Concerns about the data integrity were originally raised by Bolland et. al. [1 Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Grey A. Systematic review and statistical analysis of the integrity of 33 randomized controlled trials. Neurology 2016;87:2391–2402.[CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]] who used complex statistical methods that have been demonstrated as helping to uncover potentially fraudulent behavior on a large scale. Bolland MJ, Avenell A, Gamble GD, Grey A. Systematic review and statistical analysis of the integrity of 33 randomized controlled trials. Neurology 2016;87:2391–2402.[CrossRef], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar] We note the breach of warranties made by the underlying study author, Dr Yoshihiro Sato, with respect to originality and provenance, and of our policy on publishing ethics and integrity. We also note Dr Jun Iwamoto, Dr Tsuyoshi Takeda and Dr Hideo Matsumoto contend that they acted in good faith, and performed their meta-analysis without cognisance of the concerns with respect to data integrity. Further, we note we received, peer-reviewed, accepted, and published the article in good faith based on these warranties, and censure this action. We have been informed in our decision-making by the guidance of COPE guidelines on retractions.

The 2011 paper has been cited twice.

And now for the two papers by Sato: The editor-in-chief of Drugs & Aging pulled a 2012 literature review on which Sato is second author, citing the same reasons detailed in the meta-analyses—the review was based on recently retracted papers by Sato and colleagues. These colleagues include Jun Iwamoto from Keio University School of Medicine in Japan, who is first author on both of the newly retracted meta-analyses and the review co-authored by Sato, as well as a co-author on the retracted articles they cite. The editor-in-chief of Drugs & Aging told us:

As these constituted a substantial proportion of the studies on which the review article was based, it was considered appropriate to retract the review.

Here’s the notice for the 2012 review in Drugs & Aging, “Efficacy of Antiresorptive Agents for Preventing Fractures in Japanese Patients with an Increased Fracture Risk: Review of the Literature,” cited four times:

This review article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief, as a substantial proportion of the primary studies on which the review is based [references 9, 12, 13, 14, 15] have subsequently been retracted.

Finally, another journal has pulled a randomized controlled trial co-authored by Sato. Here’s a rather brief notice for “The prevention of hip fracture with menatetrenone and risedronate plus calcium supplementation in elderly patients with Alzheimer disease: a randomized controlled trial,” published in the Kurume Medical Journal, which has not been indexed:

The editorial board announced this article has been retracted because of scientific misconduct.

We asked the journal if it could elaborate on the notice. A representative from the editorial office at the Kurume Medical Journal told us:

We received an inquiry from The Neurology® editorial office in the fall of 2016, expressing concerns about the validity of [a] paper written by Dr. Sato et al. Members of the Editorial Board met several times to discuss the issue, and the paper has been retracted as of December, 2016.

Overall, the four retracted papers have five previously retracted papers by Sato in common. The two meta-analyses and the review all cite three of these papers (1, 2, 3). The 2008 meta-analysis, review and randomized controlled trial share an additional retracted paper (4), and the 2011 meta-analysis and review both cite another as well (5). These retractions occurred for a variety of reasons, including problems with data, lack of authorship consent and self-plagiarism (which we’ve covered here, here, and here).

By our count, this brings Sato’s total retractions to 14 (and Iwamoto’s to 15).

We contacted Sato, but his email at Mitate Hospital bounced back. We also contacted Iwamoto and Kei Satoh, from Hirosaki University School of Medicine, who was an author on the five retracted papers cited by the review and meta-analyses.

We’ve seen retractions of meta-analyses before when the literature they cite is problematic. In this case, the Sato papers included in the meta-analyses and literature review had not yet been retracted at the time of publication. But in the case of anesthesiologist Joachim Boldt, who has retracted nearly 100 papers, researchers faced a tough decision: Before the scope of fraud had been conclusively established, researchers didn’t know whether or not to cite Boldt’s research in their meta-analyses.  (Ultimately, when several researchers performed analyses that excluded Boldt’s retracted papers, they did report significantly different findings).

That’s not quite it for the latest problems for Sato. Another journal issued an editorial notice related to two 2006 letters about a 2005 paper by Sato, alerting readers that the paper was ultimately retracted in 2015. Here’s the editorial notice from Journal of Bone and Mineral Research:

The above letter by Caffrey et al and response by Sato et al concerns a paper by Sato et al published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, 2005; 20:1327–1333. We wish to draw the attention of our readers to the recent retraction of this article in 2015: Sato, Y., Iwamoto, J., Kanoko, T. and Satoh, K. (2015), Retraction: ‘Amelioration of Osteoporosis and Hypovitaminosis D by Sunlight Exposure in Hospitalized Elderly Women With Alzheimer’s Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial’. J Bone Miner Res, 30: 2328. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2725.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen for the editorial notice

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Comments
  • Paul van der Vet April 19, 2017 at 7:33 am

    I do not think that the scientific community is helped much by the blunt retraction of a meta-analysis that proves to be based partly on data from a paper or papers that were later retracted. Obviously, the conclusions of the meta-analysis need to be reconsidered but I would like to know how leaving the retracted data out affects the conclusions of the meta-analysis. By retracting the meta-analysis in its entirety we forego the opportunity to learn something.

    • Marco April 19, 2017 at 11:41 am

      The issue isn’t so much the retraction. The problem is that Taylor & Francis have withdrawn the papers. Springer has left the original online, so anyone can still read the paper and thus consider whether the retracted data affects the conclusions.

  • Andrew Grey April 20, 2017 at 7:02 am

    The 2008 meta-analysis in CMRO is based entirely on 4 trials by Sato et al whose primary reports have been retracted; the 2011 meta-analysis in CMRO includes 7 trials, all conducted by the same group of researchers (Sato et al). 4 have been retracted, the other 3 are included in the systematic review published in Neurology. Neither meta-analysis can be considered valid.

  • anon April 21, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    I’m not sure if the scientific community is helped much by meta-analysis in the first place.

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