Society recommends 9 retractions for co-author of researcher with record number of retractions

The Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists (JSA) has requested the retraction of nine additional papers by a co-author of fraudster Yoshitaka Fujii, after investigating allegations of fraud in dozens of papers.

According to the report, a committee investigated approximately 40 publications by Yuhji Saitoh of Yachiyo Medical Center and Tokyo Women’s Medical University and “identified ten publications with clear ethics violations, one of which has already been retracted.”

Saitoh has collaborated on many papers with Fujii, an anesthesia researcher with more than 180 retractions. As we reported, Saitoh resigned from the JSA when the investigation began, and the society permanently banned him.

The investigation was prompted, at least in part, by a 2016 analysis (that we also covered) from two anesthesiologists John Carlisle and John Loadsman—who examined 32 of Saitoh’s papers, 23 of which he didn’t co-author with Fujii. Carlisle and Loadsman identified several potential concerns, including that it was unlikely the sampling had been conducted randomly.

The nine as-yet-unretracted papers flagged in the society’s report were published in five journals. We contacted the journals that published the nine articles, to see whether they had plans to retract them.

The Canadian Journal of Anesthesia published four of the papers in question:

The editor-in-chief of the journal, Hilary Grocott, told us:

I only just became aware of the decision from the Japanese Society while I was on an overnight flight to Brazil.  I will need some time to read it and consider it.  I will not be able to comment further at this point.

Grocott also said:

Our Journal is continuing its due process in addressing all cases where allegations of fraud or other misconduct have involved our Journal’s content. We take these matters seriously, and although the process is often longer than would be considered ideal, our past record with dealing with similar cases is testament to the importance to which we put on this challenging issue in the published literature.

Two of the nine papers were published in the British Journal of Anaesthesia:

Hugh Hemmings, the journal’s editor-in-chief, told us:

The BJA follows the COPE guidelines, so we will investigate and retract if they are found to be fraudulent, with full disclosure of the reason for retraction.

Another paper, “Reversal of vecuronium with neostigmine in patients with diabetes mellitus,” was published in Anaesthesia in 2004 and has been cited seven times. When we asked the editor-in-chief, Andrew Klein, whether the journal planned to retract the paper, he said:

The answer is we certainly are, and also other articles published by the same author, which we are currently discussing with our publisher.

We haven’t yet heard back from two journals—Fukushima Journal of Medical Science and Journal of Anesthesia.

The paper, “Reversal of vecuronium with neostigmine: a comparison between male and female patients,” published in Fukushima Journal of Medical Science in 2009, has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. A 2010 paper “Monitoring of vecuronium-induced neuromuscular block at the sternocleidomastoid muscle in anesthetized patients,” published in Journal of Anesthesia, has been cited one time.

The JSA report noted that the fraud may not be limited to the ten publications flagged in the report, but “the committee did not find clear evidence of fraud” for other publications cited in the analysis by Carlisle.

We asked Carlisle for his take on the investigation findings. He told us:

My analysis with Dr Loadsman identified a number of randomised controlled trials that were characterised by unlikely, but possible, distributions of baseline data. Our analysis thereby identified [randomized controlled trials] that we thought the JSA should look at: only they are in a position to determine whether any of those trials were associated with research misconduct.

We tried to contact Saitoh via two email addresses he used as a corresponding author, but both bounced back.

According to our latest tally, Saitoh has 33 retractions, 32 of which include Fujii as a co-author. The JSA previously investigated  Fujii, and found that at least 172 out of 212 articles contained falsified data. (Here’s more about Fujii’s fraud from our co-founders.)

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