Don’t feel so bad, The Aging Male: It happens to lots of journals

aging maleThe Aging Male (the journal, not the demographic) is retracting a 2013 paper by a group of Chinese researchers who’d published the same work — more or less — in a Chinese title.

The article, “Testosterone therapy improves psychological distress and health-related quality of life in Chinese men with symptomatic late-onset hypogonadism patients,” came from a group at Peking University People’s Hospital, in Beijing.

But as the retraction notice explains:

The Editor and Publisher would like to inform the readers the following article published Early Online has been retracted from publication in The Aging Male: Xiaowei Z, Zhenhua L, Yeqing Y, Wenjun B, Xiaofeng W, Huan S, Yongping Z. Testosterone therapy improves psychological distress and health-related quality of life in Chinese men with symptomatic late-onset hypogonadism patients. Aging Male. 2013 Jan 10. [Epub ahead of print]. (doi:10.3109/13685538.2012.754007).

This article has been found to reproduce content to a high degree of similarity, without appropriate attribution or acknowledgement by the authors, from the following original article: Zhang XW, Liu ZH, Hu XW, Yuan YQ, Bai WJ, Wang XF, Shen H, Zhao YP. Androgen replacement therapy improves psychological distress and health-related quality of life in late onset hypogonadism patients in Chinese population. Chin Med J (Engl). 2012 Nov;125(21):3806–10. (doi:10.3760/cma.j.issn.0366-6999.2012.21.011).

The majority of the text in the manuscript published in The Aging Male is almost word-for-word identical to the text published in the Chinese Medical Journal and the data presented in all four tables is also essentially the same. The authors have been fully co-operative with our investigations and agree with the Editor and Publisher on this course of action to correct the redundancy in the literature record.

The journal’s policy in this respect is clear: The Aging Male considers all manuscripts on the strict condition that they have been submitted only to The Aging Male, that they have not been published already, nor are they under consideration for publication or in press elsewhere.

The Aging Male published this article in good faith, and on the basis of signed statements made by the corresponding author regarding the originality of their work. The article is withdrawn from all print and electronic editions.

To which we say to The Aging Male: Don’t feel so bad, it happens to lots of journals.

Update, 3 p.m. Eastern, 5/21/13: Corrected first sentence, using strikethroughs, as this was plagiarism, not duplication (see Rob Siebers comment below).

Update, 11:45 a.m. Eastern, 5/22/13: Turns out the post was correct to begin with, and this was duplication, so we’ve reverted the original first sentence. Have a look at the comments below for an explanation, which is actually pretty interesting.

0 thoughts on “Don’t feel so bad, The Aging Male: It happens to lots of journals”

  1. This has happened to me as either editor or reviewer. It takes some diligence on the part of the handling editor or reviewer to dig through unfamiliar territory. First, the reviewer must identify the past papers and then sort through the unfamiliar language. Note that it is not just Chinese, but I have noted occurrences in Japanese and Russian, at least within my experience.

    As a humorous anecdote, I had an example where work by someone else written in English was plagiarized into Chinese and then back-translated into poor English.

    Perhaps a quick scan of the figures can be telling. Using online translation can help as well. Once a potential problem is detected, the editor/reviewer should seek clarification from the authors. Sometimes, as I found out, it may even be necessary to preempt and ask the authors whether they have simultaneously submitted the work to a non-English journal with the warning of retraction should the paper be inadvertently published. These actions have helped to “protect” the authors from public shame but it sure requires effort.

    1. Well, in this case the original was in English, too, so no need to try and understand an unfamiliar language.

    2. Apology for the slightly long blog entry. I have some thoughts on this. I work with dozens of Chinese scientists. It is almost impossible to make an error with a Chinese name. Firstly (so I’ve been told by several Chinese scientists), there are only 30 core or base Chinese names in all of China, explaining why you would see so many Li’s, Zhang’s or Chang’s. Secondly, in many (if not most) Chinese names, the first (i.e., given) name can be abbreviated based on phonetics, but never the family name. So, Xiaofeng Wang would, without fail, be X-F Wang (I believe the correct phonetic abbreviation), or more rarely X Wang (incorrect form). I have seen countless errors by mainstream publishers’ journals who are actually responsible, probably upon inputting names into data-bases, for using incorrect abbreviations (in this case X Wang). Thus, it is not beyond reasonable doubt that, due to cultural ignorance of the data input (individual or publisher), that errors are still (amazingly) being introduced into the data-bases. I affirm that publishers should be held accountable and that authors should not always be seen in such a demonizing light. The order should be standardized to a Western style, i.e., first (given) name followed by family name. The key question that we should be asking here is: is it ethical to publish the exact same data-set in two or more languages? I think we would need to look at four key languages to understand the complexity of the issue here. This is a classical war of cultural dominance in the Anglo-Saxonic-Dutch axis vs other languages, as applied to the sciences. Consider Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), Spanish and Portuguese. I think these will be the dominant languages moving forward in science. German, French, Hindi and other national languages are gradually falling to the way-side. Now, imagine you are a Chinese scientist and you wish to reach your local target audience of several million scientists. Of course you would publish in Chinese. It just makes sense. In most cases, I believe, copyright transfers indicate that the copyright is restricted to only Chinese (at least they do not indicate that the copyright extends to other languages). Herein, the conundrum. However, now the same group of scientists, whose Chinese copyright transfer did not indicate that they could not re-publish in another language, re-publish the same data set in a Western (i.e., English-based) journal to satisfy the pool of non-Chinese scientists. I agree partially with a comment made below: if indicated clearly on both publications (Chinese and English), then it should not be considered unethical, as it serves purely as a cultural purpose. Of course, there would be those who would game the system to pad their CVs, but those fraudsters could be easily smoked out, e.g. someone trying to publish the same data set in several languages without any cultural requirement. For a Western journal, this is seen as unethical, almost exclusively because the copyright transfer usually gives the publisher exclusive rights to reproduce the work in any language and medium. Strangely enough, none of my work published in any main-stream publisher has ever been translated into any other language, which begs the question “why does the publisher include this (apparently defunct and redundant) clause in their copyright transfer statement”? I wouldn’t be surprised if, as we start to get more and more bilingual specialists, to find that hundreds if not thousands of data sets have been published in two languages. Remember, and this is a key point, Chinese scientists are playing a game of Roulette (not the Russian type). They game the Impact Factor since they are remunerated in hard cash on a scale that depends on the IF score. So, for them, it makes sense to do a duplication … just only in two languages. We need more Chinese-based scientists who have good English skills to start monitoring Chinese data-bases. I sense we could find an explosion of cases… I would also keep my eye open for papers published on big South American data-bases like Scielo (Portuguese and Spanish) but generally Google searches will reveal duplicates because most of those journals publish the paper with an English abstract. I suspect that there is much more to the Aging Male than just duplication. This is undoubtedly also a cultural problem (or misunderstanding). As I say, it would be useful to see the copyrights of both papers, and who exactly signed them (incidentally, very few talk about copyrights on this blog, but it is a key clue to the fraud that is constantly being reported on RW).

  2. When there’s so much pressure to publish in high-prestige journals whose policies only allow original publications, how is the scientific record to be propagated across linguistic boundaries? Shouldn’t we want the scientific record to be both complete AND accessible? While I agree that we don’t want unnecessary redundancy, it seems to me perfectly reasonable that work of the appropriate calibre for a given journal should be published in that journal as well as comparable journals in other languages, provided that the multiple publications are acknowledged and recorded as such on the authors CVs.

    1. Clearly I need to read more closely, as I completely missed the “(Engl)” part of the Chinese Medical Journal’s citation. I guess that makes this a case of “only submit to the most prestigious / highest relevance / highest circulation journal you can get your paper in”.

      Apologies for misunderstanding.

  3. You say that this group of Chinese researchers published the same work in the Chinese Medical Journal (articles in English). However, the article in the Chinese Medical Journal is by a totally different set of authors. It seems that the authors of the Aging Male article copied word for word and the results, without actually doing the work, from a previous publication. This, if so, should have been explicitely stated and their Institution notified. It amounts to theft.

    Incidently, it has happened to an article by myself some 25 years ago. I came across an article that was similar in design to a previously published study by myself together with identical key laboratory data (identical to 2nd decimal point). I wrote to the editor of that Journal (pre email days) who completely ignored me despite repeated attempts at follow up. Have noted that the author that appeared to have stolen my data became a prominent researcher over subsequent years (to full Professor).

      1. Woha! New correction needed, this definitely was duplication!

        The retracted article has the following author list:
        Zhang Xiaowei, Liu Zhenhua, Yuan Yeqing, Bai Wenjun, Wang Xiaofeng, Shen Huan, and Zhao Yongping.

        And so does the CMJ article:
        ZHANG Xiao-wei, LIU Zhen-hua, HU Xiao-wei, YUAN Ye-qing, BAI Wen-jun, WANG Xiao-feng, SHEN Huan , ZHAO Yong-ping

        The confusion is likely because the latter is often (correctly) transformed as SURNAME – given name by databases like Pubmed, the surname easily recognizable as it is in all-caps.

    1. I think it may be that “Xiaowei Z” = “Zhang XW,” “Yeqing Y” = “Yuan YQ,” etc. So the authors do overlap.

      1. This still remains confusing with Chinese names. Unlike Japanese and Koreans who have adapted their names to follow Western practice, this does not always happen with Chinese authors who stick to what I think is a more logical sequence, like botanical and zoological names.

          1. To clarify, if the authors are indeed the same ie they used their first names in Aging Male, then they did so with the intention to obfuscate. No self respecting chinese person would ever abbreviate their surname. It is just not done.

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