Surgery journal retracts cancer paper for duplication after “naive” response from authors

The Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England has an informative retraction notice about a recent paper it published that was marred by self-plagiarism. The article, “Current concepts of surveillance and its significance in head and neck cancer,” from a group of researchers at Grant Medical College, in Mumbai (which is known to this blog) and Royal Marsden Hospital in London, appeared last November. It soon was found to be awfully similar to a 2009 article by the same group of authors (sort of) in a different journal.

Here’s what the Annals had to say:

Recently the Editor received an enquiry from a reader concerning a paper published in the November 2011 issue of the Annals. This noted extensive similarities between the Annals paper and a publication by the same authors in 2009. The abstracts of the two papers are almost identical, the work reported concerns the same group of patients seen in an identical time period, many sections of the text are closely similar or identical, and several tables contain the same information, albeit sometimes in a different order.

The submitting author and the last named author of the Annals paper were asked to comment on these facts. A reply was received from a third author, named first on the Annals paper. This was unconvincing. The reply included these statements: ‘The article published previously in the Cancer Treatment Reviews was an extensive review which addressed all aspects of surveillance under two broad headings of “when to follow up” and ”what to follow up” and also had a detailed discussion on the recommendations. Whereas the study we published in the Annals reviewed articles on specific aspects of surveillance such as timing of visits, imaging and endoscopy alone. The article as such is not a word to word [sic] reprint and so the question of dual publication is contested […] We are however keen to address the issues raised and we would like to update the article accordingly.

‘We would also like to apologise as the article was submitted without the clear knowledge of the senior author Mr Rehan Kazi and he has expressed his desire to be withdrawn from the list of authors.’

In our view, this constitutes dual or redundant publication. The similarities are too great to allow any other interpretation. The second (Annals) paper makes no reference to the earlier publication and if the Editor had been aware of the first publication, he would not have accepted the work for publication in the Annals.

The authors’ response raises two other issues. It is naive to suggest that these issues can be dealt with after publication. Publication defines the final version of a paper and later changes are not possible. More worrying, the last named author of the Annals paper was named as corresponding author but he was not made aware of the submission. Criteria for authorship are well known3 and include formal agreement to submission of the final text by all authors. We are currently reviewing our submission requirements to strengthen this aspect of submission.

The Annals subscribes to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and strives to maintain the highest standards of practice. Contributors will be aware that we have recently begun to use the CrossCheck service, which has the power to detect dual or redundant publication and plagiarism (unfortunately too late to detect in this case).

The recent publication in the Annals has now been retracted. We regret the time and effort wasted in this matter by our reviewers and staff, and the lost opportunity to publish another paper in the space taken by this submission.

The letter is signed by Colin Johnson, the editor-in-chief of the journal, and WEG Thomas, chair of the publication’s editorial board. The references to the two papers are:

1.  Manikantan K, Dwivedi RC, Sayed SI, Pathak KA, Kazi R. Current concepts of surveillance and its significance in head and neck cancer. Ann R Coll Surg Engl 2011; 93: 576–582 (cited March 2012).

2. Manikantan K, Khode S, Dwivedi  RC et al. Making sense of post-treatment surveillance in head and neck cancer: when and what of follow-up. Cancer Treat Rev 2009; 35: 744–753.

We’d certainly like to see more retraction notices like this, and we commend the journal for the detailed notice, particularly in a rather routine case of duplicate publication. But we note that running a bit of the abstract through Google, as we did, would have caught the overlap, albeit retroactively.

Here’s the abstract from the 2011 article:

Follow-up in head and neck cancer (hNC) is essential to detect and manage locoregional recurrence or metastases, or second primary tumours at the earliest opportunity. A variety of guidelines and investigations have been published in the literature. This has led to oncologists using different guidelines across the globe. The follow-up protocols may have unnecessary investigations that may cause morbidity or discomfort to the patient and may have significant cost implications. In this evidence-based review we have tried to evaluate and address important issues like the frequency of follow-up visits, clinical and imaging strategies adopted, and biochemical methods used for the purpose. This review summarises strategies for follow-up, imaging modalities and key investigations in the literature published between 1980 and 2009. A set of recommendations is also presented for cost-effective, simple yet efficient surveillance in patients with head and neck cancer.

And the 2009 paper it copied:

Follow-up in patients treated for head and neck cancer (HNC) is aimed at early detection of recurrence, metastases and second primary tumours. Various modalities for the routine follow-up of patients with HNC have been proposed and studied in the literature. Consequently, practising head and neck surgeons and oncologists all over the world use different guidelines and protocols to follow-up their patients. These guidelines involve follow-up intervals of varying intensity and schedule an assortment of investigations that may be neither logical nor practical. This follow-up process may be difficult to administrate, cause unnecessary discomfort and morbidity to the patient and can have serious cost-implications to the healthcare system. This review summarises strategies for follow-up, imaging modalities and key investigations in the literature published between 1980 and 2009. In this structured review, we have assessed studies in the literature that have addressed follow-up intervals, imaging tests, tumour markers, endoscopy and thyroid function tests as a part of the routine post-treatment surveillance in HNC patients. Studies analysing the cost benefit of such surveillance have also been addressed. Based on the evidence presented, we have compiled definitive recommendations for effective surveillance/post-treatment follow-up in patients with HNC.

It’s good that the Annals now uses CrossCheck. Why any journal today doesn’t use that service or a similar screening on every manuscript it considers boggles the mind.

11 thoughts on “Surgery journal retracts cancer paper for duplication after “naive” response from authors”

  1. I wish that ALL journals do adhere to COPE Guidelines and do NOT hesitate to do the right thing, regardless the country of origin, institution, or position of the offenders!

    I do believe that DOING THE RIGHT THING becomes more prevalent, not least because RW is doing a great job for BRAKING THE ICE of the misconduct/fraud in academic publishing!

    1. “I wish that ALL journals do adhere to COPE Guidelines”

      This will not happen. The journals are edited by the same people that will lose many, many authorships if the guidelines are adopted. It will be the rare editorial board of a top tier journal that would willingly submit to rules that would hurt their publication record.

  2. This seems a lot like the case of Halliwell at NUS (see The two Halliwell papers are about 50% the same, the abstracts are close to 100% identical, and the second paper did not cite the first paper! The two journals involved do not seem to have taken any action.

    Almost all major journals invariably claim to subscribe to strict standards concerning plagiarism, including self-plagiarism, but very few take tangible and transparent actions.

  3. I, too, enjoyed the sentence “Publication defines the final version of a paper and later changes are not possible.” Retraction Watch has noted several papers that have been extensively amended, so apparently not all editors agree on this point.

    How is it that the journal never e-mailed the corresponding author before publication? Good heavens, I’ve gotten notices about being named as a co-author on conference posters, and I’ve seen “warnings” on conference abstract submission sites that every co-author will be automatically e-mailed when an abstract is submitted. How could this journal have been so neglectful? However, I do applaud the editors for deciding that the authors would not be allowed to fill in the gaps ex post facto. What possesses people to think that they should be given a chance to make something right when they have been caught trying to get away with something?

    1. JudyH, please be aware of the distinction between corrections, which leaves the original paper still intact, and what Wiley allowed in the case of the two papers I cited above. In the latter case, the original paper was modified. That is, we cannot see what has changed.

      Regarding contacting the corresponding author: I think the journal was under the impression it *was* corresponding with the designated corresponding author. I’ve already seen a few cases where someone set up a fake account, so the e-mails never were read by the designated corresponding author.

      Also, in my experience most journals do not contact the co-authors, and even then you can easily fake a few addresses. It’s when one of those authors suddenly finds out he has an extra publication he didn’t know about that trouble may start. Then again, apparently Mr Rehan Kazi is not vain enough to check his publications on Pubmed, or has not done so in the past few months.

      1. I know you are not blaming the victim, but Kazi (I believe it means priest) is quite a common name. R is a common initial. 103 hits on PuBMEd. Many have a sameness about them,which may be a problem in itself.

        1. Dysphagia. 2012 Feb 21. [Epub ahead of print]
        Evaluation of Swallowing by Sydney Swallow Questionnaire (SSQ) in Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer Patients Treated with Primary Surgery.
        Dwivedi RC, St Rose S, Chisholm EJ, Georgalas C, Bisase B, Amen F, Kerawala CJ, Clarke PM, Nutting CM, Rhys-Evans PH, Harrington KJ, Kazi R.

        Head and Neck Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London, SW3 6JJ, UK,

        2. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2012 Apr;269(4):1233-9. Epub 2011 Sep 10.
        An exploratory study of the influence of clinico-demographic variables on swallowing and swallowing-related quality of life in a cohort of oral and oropharyngeal cancer patients treated with primary surgery.
        Dwivedi RC, Chisholm EJ, Khan AS, Harris NJ, Bhide SA, St Rose S, Kerawala CJ, Clarke PM, Nutting CM, Rhys-Evans PH, Harrington KJ, Kazi R.

        Head and Neck Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London, SW3 6JJ, UK,

        The “exploratory” study, 1, is published first. I imagine that the data was collected at the same time. Even if they are different, an issue is that it better to publish similar things as one publication (people would like to know comparison, that’s if there are some differences).

        3. Oral Oncol. 2012 Jan 28. [Epub ahead of print]
        Evaluation of speech outcomes using English version of the Speech Handicap Index in a cohort of head and neck cancer patients.
        Dwivedi RC, St Rose S, Chisholm EJ, Bisase B, Amen F, Nutting CM, Clarke PM, Kerawala CJ, Rhys-Evans PH, Harrington KJ, Kazi R.

        Head and Neck Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW3 6JJ, UK; The Institute of Cancer Research, 237 Fulham Road, London SW3 6JB, UK.

        4. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2011 Oct;93(7):523-7.
        Acoustic analysis of tracheo-oesophageal voice in male total laryngectomy patients.
        Deore N, Datta S, Dwivedi RC, Palav R, Shah R, Sayed SI, Jagde M, Kazi R.

        ENT Department, Grant Medical College, Byculla, Mumbai – 400 008, India.

        3 and 4 are published 3 mnths apart. Again things saying very similar things that may have been better published together.

        5. Oral Oncol. 2011 Apr;47(4):237-43. Epub 2011 Mar 5.
        Implications of understanding cancer stem cell (CSC) biology in head and neck squamous cell cancer.
        Sayed SI, Dwivedi RC, Katna R, Garg A, Pathak KA, Nutting CM, Rhys-Evans P, Harrington KJ, Kazi R.
        ENT Dept., Grant Medical College, B.R. Ambedkar Road, Byculla, Mumbai 8, India.

        Year : 2010 | Volume : 6 | Issue : 4 | Page : 411-413

        Cancer stem cells: An enigma in head and neck cancer

        Rehan Kazi1, Suhail I Sayed2, Raghav C Dwivedi1
        1 Head and Neck Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, London SW3 6JJ, United Kingdom
        2 Department of ENT, Grant Medical College, B.R. Ambedkar Road, Byculla, Mumbai – 8, India


        7. ANZ J Surg. 2010 Nov;80(11):770-1.
        Post laryngectomy speech and voice rehabilitation: past, present and future.
        Kazi R, Sayed SI, Dwivedi RC.
        Head and neck Unit, Royal Marsden Hospital, London, UK.

        8. Perspectives on voice rehabilitation following total laryngectomy.
        Kazi R, Pawar P, Sayed SI, Dwivedi RC.
        Eur J Cancer Care (Engl). 2010 Nov;19(6):703-5.

      2. Agree with you on contacting the co-authors issue. Some of the journals will send an email to all the co-authors whenever any manuscript is submitted with their name on it but the email id to which these mails would go will be the same that the corresponding author feeds in while submitting the manuscript. Generating multiple fake email ids is a minor thing when some one is trying to fool the rest with duplicate publication with minor changes in the sentence structure!!

  4. Reading the abstract itself one can make a guess about what the authros were trying to do. When you publish a review in 2009 then you understandably survey the literature from 1980 -2009 but then you decide to write a review again in 2011 but your frame of reference still remains 1980-2009. Does it mean that nothing new was published in during the interveing period? That should have been a red flag in the first place and yes the other red flag was their omission of their own review of the related literature published 2 yrs back. Any other review would have mentioned, “…aspects were reviewed recetnly in ….”

    Yes I too completely agree with the sentiment that ‘publication’ is the ‘final’. The editors need to discriminate between inadvertent mistakes that should be allowed to be corrected versus the correction/ generation of data after being caught especially in today’s highly competetive set up where genuine and careful authors who obvioulsy have to spend more time on it get beaten by such papers.

  5. Is there a way to verify this ‘It’s good that the Annals now uses CrossCheck. Why any journal today doesn’t use that service or a similar screening on every manuscript it considers boggles the mind.’ thanks

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