Skin in the game: Derm journal retracts identical cancer case study submitted by two groups at the same facility

It seems the faculty at Myongji Hospital, in Goyang, Korea, have some ‘splainin to do.

Two groups of physicians from the hospital, part of Kwandong University College of Medicine, published case reports on a rare form of basal cell carcinoma. Turns out they were writing about the same patient.

According to a retraction notice in the Annals of Dermatology, a publication of the Korean Dermatological Association and the Korean Society for Investigative Dermatology:

On September 30, 2011, Annals of Dermatology in Volume 23, Number Supplementary 1, published a case report by Go JW, et al. on the basal cell nevus syndrome1. We accepted the article after having been informed in writing, by the authors, that it had not been submitted for publication elsewhere. In fact, however, the same case had already been reported by Moon MS, et al., the colleagues in the same affiliation in Journal of the Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons in Korean2. We were alerted to this fact by the editorial board of the Korean Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. As some of the pictures in the case report in the Annals of Dermatology were utilized without any permission from the original publisher, it is a duplicate publication. Thus, the editorial board of Annals of Dermatology finally decided to retract it in full.

Although 0ne might expect to see at least one shared co-author on both articles, there’s no overlap. In the first paper, the authors are Go JW, Kim SH, Yi SY, and Cho HK. In the second: Moon MS, Lee HK, Jeong HS, Song JS.

The title of the second (that is, the first) paper sheds a bit of light on what might have happened here. The paper, “Removal of odontogenic keratinocyst using versatile maxillary window in BCNS,” which appeared in 2010, suggests the handiwork of surgeons, while the first, “Basal cell nevus syndrome showing several histologic types of basal cell carcinoma,” looks like diagnostic dermatology. And indeed, Moon and colleagues are in the department of plastic and reconstructive surgery (and pathology), while Go group are from the department of dermatology.

Fair enough. But as amusing as this might be, there’s potentially a darker side. We would like to think the journals in question asked for proof the patient had signed a consent form before the authors had submitted their articles. But given the chaos here, it seems unlikely that the patient signed two such documents. Or that the university’s ethics officials, when presented with such an unusual case, would have failed to notice the duplication and mentioned it to the Go team. Just saying.

Over the years, the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has looked at the issue of case reports and informed consent — or lack thereof. The short answer is, when in doubt, don’t publish. Of particular concern, COPE has held, are those cases in which

enough information is available in the published report that a good investigative journalist can identify the patient, then the editor is in breach of the Data Protection Act. The Forum also warned that the editor, if on the UK medical register, could be in breach of the General Medical Council (GMC) regulations and was advised to consult the GMC’s documents Good Medical Practice and Patient Confidentiality and Consent.

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