Rabies paper retracted for plagiarism, and more from the Journal of Clinical Pathology

A cardinal (if oft-broken) rule of headline writing is to avoid the use of question marks. We think it’s particularly important to do so when the potential for ironic misadventure lurks.

To wit: The Journal of Clinical Pathology (JCP) has withdrawn/retracted a 2008 paper by a group of Indian authors (from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, at Deemed University) whose cliff-hanging title asks the question “Tracking the footprints of the rabies virus: are we any closer to decoding this elusive virus?”

The authors have withdrawn the paper following an allegation of plagiarism

Would that be a no, then?

The JCP has another recent withdrawal of a paper, but this one provides nothing in the way of information for its readers:

Yamaguchi R, Mitsuyama S, Tanaka M, et al. Practical considerations in the detection of HER2 status: the pathological perspective. J Clin Path 2011. Published Online First 21 September 2011. doi:10.1136/jclinpath-2011-200046. This article has been withdrawn.

We asked C. Soon Lee, editor-in-chief of JCP, for elaboration and he told us that

Both were withdrawn because of plagiarism of other authors’ work.

Meanwhile, we understand that the JCP will be retracting yet another paper soon, this time for duplication. The article, “Immunohistochemical prognostic markers in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: validation of tissue microarray as a prerequisite for broad clinical applications (a study from the Lunenburg Lymphoma Biomarker Consortium,” by a group of Dutch scientists led by Daphne de Jong, appeared online in September 2008.

But it was strikingly similar to a 2007 article in the  Journal of Clinical Oncology by the same group, titled “Immunohistochemical prognostic markers in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: validation of tissue microarray as a prerequisite for broad clinical applications (a study from the Lunenburg Lymphoma Biomarker Consortium).” The JCP article has been cited 30 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The similarity was first brought to the attention of Lee last July by the JCO and its publisher, the American Society of Clinical OncologyAmerican Cancer Society. Email traffic we have seen shows that Lee contacted de Jong in October asking for her explanation for the apparent overlap. Here’s her response:

At the time of publication of our paper in the Journal of Clinical Pathology , this issue was also brought up by your predecessor. Much to my embarrassment, I must admit. We have had correspondence at that time in which I have clarified the essential differences between our two papers and indeed the discussion was concluded to our mutual satisfaction.

In brief, the Journal Clinical Oncology paper addresses the ability of pathologists to reliably score optimized immunohistochemical stains and elaborates on the consequences for the interpretation of clinico-pathological correlations and the weight that clinicians should put to these publications. The Journal of Clinical Pathology paper, however, addresses technical reproducibility by pathology labs, the causes of lack of reproducibility and their various solutions. Therefore, of the large validation project performed by LLBC, two largely independent validation studies are reported in the two publications and there is little overlap in the actual information content albeit that the overall conclusions are largely similar: immunohistochemistry is not a sufficiently reproducible method for patient stratification in daily practice.

I hope that this further clarifies this matter and that you can also convince the editor-in-chief of the Journal Clinical Oncology that indeed this matter was taken seriously both by your predecessor at JCP and by myself at the time of publication and in depth discussed and concluded at that time.

That reply evidently neither clarified the matter nor did much convincing — not, at least, quite how de Jong might have hoped.

In late December, Lee sent this reply:

The Editors of the Journal of Clinical Pathology (JCP) and our publisher, BMJ Publishing Group, have met on 6 Dec, 2011, to discussed your publication in JCP in 2009. As alerted by the Editor-in-Chief, Dr Stephen Cannistra, of the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO), we agreed with him that most of the content of the JCO publication was reproduced word for word in the JCP paper. In view of the later publication of JCP, we regret to inform you that a unanimous decision was made to retract your publication in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, entitled: “Immunohistochemical prognostic markers in diffuse large B-cell lymphoma: validation of tissue microarray as a prerequisite for broad clinical applications (a study from the Lunenburg Lymphoma Biomarker Consortium D de Jong, W Xie, A Rosenwald, M Chhanabhai, P Gaulard, W Klapper, A Lee, B Sander, C Thorns, E Campo, T Molina, A Hagenbeek, S Horning, A Lister, J Raemaekers, G Salles, R D Gascoyne, E Weller Journal of Clinical Pathology February 2009:128-38

A notice on this matter will be made in the next available issue of JCP, and also to PubMed.

We’re curious whether that notice, when it arrives, will state the reason for the retraction.

Hat tip: Clare Francis

7 thoughts on “Rabies paper retracted for plagiarism, and more from the Journal of Clinical Pathology”

  1. The de Jong case appears quite interesting, in that if at the the time of publicaton of the JCP article, there was discussion between the authors and the previous editor, which was resolved to “mutual satisfaction” , in that the 2008 paper was published, and not apparently retracted at the time. Now with a retraction in the offing, this suggests that “goalposts have moved”, perhaps with the change in editor, and illustrating the degree of subjectivity in the whole process. Indeed in this instance, this is more like double jeopardy, wherein no new information is available. As the firthcoming retractoion is due to reproduction in content, this suggests that the scrutiny of the previous editor was questionable.

  2. The Natinal Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences case is also interesting. No “race” card here (as Prof Dipak Das put it) – we had three blogs in the last 30 days on scientists from India. Probably something to consider seriously. Apologies if this post has offended anyone.

    1. Having attended medical school in India followed by an internship and residency there, I think it is fair to say that a healthy dose of skepticism is essential while evaluating all scientific or analytical work. Work from places like India, where what the boss says is often beyond any question, should probably be looked at more closely than average. I can name a large number of other countries to which this caution must apply – but will refrain from naming any other.

  3. Two months later, no retraction or “withdrawal”. I see no retraction or withdrawn notice on the JCP website page for this paper, nor could I find one in any of the January through April editions of JCP. None at PubMed either. One wonders what the “next available issue” might be.

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