Puzzling: Maybe weight loss surgery paper by author who acknowledged fraud is being retracted after all

We’ve been following the case of Edward Shang, a weight loss surgeon who has acknowledged making up most — if not all — of the patients in a now-retracted study in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases. Last week, we reported that Obesity Surgery, where Shang had published four papers, would not be retracting any of them. That’s what Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases Obesity Surgery editor Scott Shikora told us in an email exchange (more on that below).

It turns out, however, that one of Shang’s Obesity Surgery papers had already been retracted, unbeknownst to us because the original abstract was not — and is still not — linked to the retraction notice, which reads:

This article is being retracted by the Publisher due to the inclusion of fraudulent data within the article.

The notice is dated May 2, although it’s not clear when it actually went online. It’s certainly possible that we misunderstood Shikora, but we asked a few times for clarification, as our email exchange with him below demonstrates:

We wrote:

I blog at Retraction Watch: https://retractionwatch.com. We’re writing about the retraction of a paper in Surgery for Obesity and Related Diseases by Edward Shang: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S155072891000033X

I understand that SORD editor Harvey Sugerman has flagged these issues to you. Can you say whether you plan to retract any of Dr. Shang’s papers in Obesity Surgery? Also, when you wrote last month that “The rush to publish has led a few investigators to knowingly or unknowingly report inaccurate, exaggerated, or even false data,” were you talking about Dr. Shang’s work?

Thanks in advance.

Shikora wrote:

I reviewed the history of Dr Shang’s publications in Obesity Surgery.  I found a single paper that was a summary of the German bariatric database.  He was not the first author and most of the German bariatric surgeons were listed as authors/  We concluded that his role was minimal and there was no need to retract the paper.

I withhold comment about my editorial on ethic but you can read between the lines.

We wrote:

To follow up: I see four papers from Dr. Shang in Obesity Surgery: http://www.springerlink.com/content/0960-8923/?MUD=MP&k=shang Did you review all of them?

Shikora wrote:

Yes I have and determined that they were not an issue.
What is your keen interest on this?

We wrote:

Thanks, I wanted to make sure since you referred to only one paper.

As to my interest, as I mentioned, I blog at Retraction Watch: https://retractionwatch.com. We launched in August 2010 and are frequently cited in media outlets including the New York Times and Nature. Here’s a sense of what people are saying about us: http://www.retractionwatch.com/what-people-are-saying-about-retraction-watch/

Shikora responded:

He only first authored 1 paper and is was about a stapler. The rest were first authored by Stroh.

We’ve contacted Shikora again for clarification, as well as Springer, the journal’s publisher, to see what happened here, and will update with anything we hear back.

Update, 3:45 p.m. Eastern, 5/8/12: Shikora tells us that he misspoke:

I thought that the article was still in peer review and could be withdrawn from review. However, when I realize now that  it had already published online. A retraction is underway.

That could explain the discrepancy, but we note that the paper wasn’t just published; it went online in 2009. That suggests there may be yet another paper involved. We’ll continue to try to sort this out.

4 thoughts on “Puzzling: Maybe weight loss surgery paper by author who acknowledged fraud is being retracted after all”

  1. Things are getting even more odd. Today, the University Hospital and the University of Leipzig issued a press release (in German) stating that between 2nd and 4th May they were given notice that, apart from the initial SORD publication, five (!) more publications with Edward Shang as first author had been retracted (they do not give any more details). Furthermore, they write that the University Hospital has terminated the employment contract with Shang with immediate effect.

    However, only one hour later, the press release was inactivated again by the publisher and awaits re-activation. See yourself at http://www.lifepr.de/inaktiv/universitaetsklinikum-leipzig-aoer/boxid/312843.

    The German wording of the complete, but currently inactivated press release can be read here: http://www.laborjournal.de/wordpress/?p=4566#comment-7725, comment no. 3 at the bottom.

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