Are there instances when similarities between papers should be fixed by a correction, rather than a retraction?
We’re asking ourselves that question after seeing two journals take very different approaches to a somewhat similar situation. Last year, Frontiers in Physiology retracted a paper by Anastasios Lymperopoulos at Nova Southeastern University in Florida because of an “an unacceptable level of similarity” to a 2009 review article by different authors. But more recently, after Circulation Research discovered another paper co-authored by Lymperopoulos also contained similar text from the same 2009 review, it decided to correct the passages.
The last author of the Circulation Research paper told us the overlap between the two papers was less than 5%, and the journal never suggested the authors retract the paper.
Here’s the correction notice in Circulation Research:
For the Circulation Research article by Lymperopoulos et al (“Adrenergic Nervous System in Heart Failure: Pathophysiology and Therapy.” Circ Res. 2013;113:739–753. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.113.300308), it was brought to the attention of the Scientific Publishing Committee that certain sections of the text of the article were similar to passages in a review article published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (Triposkiadis et al, J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009;54:1747–1762) and cited in the original version of the article as reference #4. Those sections have now been significantly revised, and this revised version of the article is available at http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/113/6/739.full. The authors apologize for this oversight.
The review article it borrowed from, “The Sympathetic Nervous System in Heart Failure: Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Clinical Implications,” has been cited 239 times.
Last author Walter Koch, based at Temple University in Philadelphia, told us the overlap was unintentional:
[O]ur manuscript was a comprehensive literature review article on the adrenergic nervous system in heart failure and the overlap that was reported to Circulation Research was the JACC review on a similar topic that was previously published and for which we appropriately referenced. Any overlap in text was completely un-intentional and actually the passages that we were asked to re-write were by and large all facts, which are difficult to revise because they are statements and the end results was <5% overlap was found. Of importance, outside of statements of facts describing the adrenergic nervous system within the cardiovascular system, there were no editorial comments from us that were part of the re-write and these thoughts included in this Review concerning adrenergic regulation of heart failure were not questioned and totally authentic.
He added that this is “absolutely not” a case of plagiarism, and a retraction was never on the table:
There was never any discussion of retraction – the Editors and Publishing Committee of the American Heart Association realized that the overlap were primarily factual statements [and] we were simply asked to re-word.
However, Frontiers in Physiology took a different approach to the overlap, and decided to retract Lymperopoulos’s 2013 paper, “Physiology and pharmacology of the cardiovascular adrenergic system,” cited 11 times — against Lymperopoulos’s wishes:
The journal has retracted the 4 September 2013 article cited above. Based on information discovered after publication and reported to Frontiers in June 2015, the article was examined, revealing that the complaint was valid and that the article should be retracted, because of an unacceptable level of similarity to another review article by Triposkiadis et al. (2009) published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The retraction of the article was approved by the Field Chief Editor of Frontiers in Physiology. The author does not agree to the retraction or to the notice.
Koch declined to comment on Lymperopoulos’s previous retraction. Lymperopoulos referred questions about the Circulation Research paper to Koch, but said this about the Frontiers retraction:
Honestly, I have no idea what happened with that paper. The editor decided to retract it without prior notice or consultation with me on the basis of alleged “plagiarism”, which, of course, was again totally false.
George Billman of Ohio State University, editor of Frontiers in Physiology, disagreed, and told us Lymperopoulos was given the opportunity to respond to what Billman called a “textbook example of plagiarism:”
The paper to which you refer (by Anastasios Lymperopoulos) was retracted due the extensive overlap/duplication of material published in previous paper that appeared in the Journal of American College of Cardiology by Triposkiadis et al. (JACC 54: 1747-1762, 2009). The overlap was brought to our attention by a reader and investigated by the scientific ethics group at Frontiers. About 70% of the Frontiers’ paper duplicated word for word the JACC paper, even using one of the same figures. It was particularly alarming that Dr. Lymperopoulos was not a co-author of the JACC paper, so the overlap could not be attributed to the use of self-referential material. I should note that Dr. Lymperopoulos was given the opportunity to respond the allegations. He refused to acknowledge that there were any potential problems with his paper and threatened legal action if the paper was retracted. To date, no such action has occurred.
We contacted Circulation Research editor Roberto Bolli at the University of Louisville, and received a response from a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, which publishes the journal:
The Journal Editors felt a correction notice was necessary. Any other questions should be directed to the study authors.
Hat tip: Kerry Grens
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