BMC investigating allegedly copied paper

logoBioMed Central is investigating a recent paper about a potential biomarker for liver cancer, which shows signs it was written using another article as a template.

According to Jeffrey Beall, who exposed the similarities between the two papers on his blog Scholarly Open Access yesterday, the paper in question is “obviously bogus,” and appears to have relied on the “template plagiarism” technique of creating a new article by modifying a previous paper’s text and data.

A spokesperson for BioMed Central, which published the allegedly “junk” paper, as Beall calls it, told us they are looking into the allegations:

Our Research Integrity Group are currently investigating this and we have no further comment to provide until the investigation is complete.

There are some similarities between the two articles. Even the titles overlap: The first paper, published in 2014 in the European Journal of Research by a group of authors based in China is entitled “Decreased expression and clinical significance of miR-148a in hepatocellular carcinoma tissues.” The article that allegedly used that 2014 paper as a template was published in August, 2015, in Diagnostic Pathology by a group of authors based in Iran. Its title appears to contain a typo in the first word: “Decrease expression and clinicopathological significance of miR-148a with poor survival in hepatocellular carcinoma tissues.”

The similarities don’t stop there, according to Beall, who says the second article

…appears to have been created by using the first article as a template. Much of the wording is the same, and one of the figures is the same except the data is a little different…The later paper is shorter than the first, with only about two pages of real text. Also, the later, suspect article does not cite the first one. The title contains an error (Decrease instead of Decreased) and the text has not been copyedited and is barely readable. See for example, this excerpt:

Although the clinical staging have used in clinical decision, but improvement of molecular mechanism can be useful to clarify the role of new markers in the treatment and prognosis of HCC (p. 1).

There are certainly similarities between the two papers. See the “methods” section of the abstracts:

(2014): Eighty-nine HCC and their para-cancerous liver tissues were recruited. Total mRNA including miRNA was isolated and miR-148a expression was determined by using real time RT-qPCR. Furthermore, the relationship between the miR-148a level and clinicopathological features was explored.

(2015): Ninety six HCC samples and their noncancerous normal liver tissues were collected. Total mRNA including miRNA was extracted, and miR-148a expression was determined using qRT-PCR. Furthermore, the correlation between the miR-148a expression and clinicopathological parameters was investigated.

The 2015 paper also contains multiple copy-editing errors, such as a “please remove” in the second sentence of the abstract.

As Beall notes, there are no indications that the 2014 paper has any issues:

As far as I know, both the research and publishing processes of this paper were completely ethical.

Beall told us in a phone interview that he was tipped off to the similarities between the two papers by a pathology expert in Europe. As soon as he looked at it, he noticed the typos and other copy-editing errors:

There are some obvious problems with the paper that you don’t need a PhD in pathology to recognize.

He noted that he doesn’t see “template plagiarism” too often, but when he does, it’s easy to spot:

You don’t see it too much, but I have seen it before. It’s so egregious and it’s so easy to catch.

The Diagnostic Pathology paper was received June 15 and published August 7, less than two months later.

We’re trying to get to the bottom of this story. We’ve contacted the corresponding authors on both papers, and will update with any responses.

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3 thoughts on “BMC investigating allegedly copied paper”

  1. A section editor of Diagnostic Pathology, Rodolfo Montironi (Italy), has a retraction because of plagiarism:
    Montironi, R., Scarpelli, M., Mazzucchelli, R., Cheng, L. and Lopez-Beltran, A. (2012), Retracted: The spectrum of morphology in non-neoplastic prostate including cancer mimics. Histopathology, 60: 41–58. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2559.2011.04000.x

  2. Presumably this large-scale copying would have been picked up by text-matching software if the submission had been screened. I understand that Elsevier are now screening all submissions before peer review. It is obviously a question of time and resources but other publishers might consider doing the same if they are concerned about this type of problem. While minor plagiarism can be tricky to define, large-scale plagiarism such as this is surely very easy to spot with tools such as turnitin/Crosscheck.

  3. “I understand that Elsevier are now screening all submissions before peer review.”
    Liz Wager, how do you know that Elsevier is doing this? In your opinion, does Elsevier then have the responsibility of screening all back (previously published) papers for plagiarism? Separately, do you know COPE’s position of uniform screening of back papers for plagiarism by COPE member journals and publishers? Your insight would be important.

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