“The most terrible experience of my life:” Authorship dispute leads to lawsuit

A journal has retracted a 2014 paper because of an authorship dispute that became the subject of litigation.

Last year, the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh requested the paper be retracted to resolve the dispute. The Journal of Applied Biomaterials & Functional Materials retracted the paper in October.

According to the retraction notice, the principal investigator of a clinical trial on which some of the study is based was not included as a co-author, and claimed he had not “validated the accuracy of the data.”

The notice does not mention a lawsuit, but a letter from the authors’ research institution does.

The letter (forwarded to us by the journal) is dated April 2017, and signed by Keith Lejeune, vice president of research at Allegheny-Singer Research Institute in Pittsburgh. Lejeune requests the retraction, noting that the principal investigator in question had raised “significant objections” to the publication of the data and that “the matter has unfortunately become the subject of litigation.” As Lejeune wrote in the letter:

This dispute can only be resolved by retraction of the article.

The journal retracted the paper six months later.

Lejeune’s letter does not name the principal investigator who sued the institution; the paper’s corresponding author, Garth D. Ehrlich, told us the person in question was a surgeon who worked at Allegheny but has since moved to another institution.

According to Ehrlich, now professor of microbiology and immunology at the Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, the researcher sued his former research institution because he was not included as a co-author on the 2014 paper. Ehrlich said:

It was the most terrible experience of my life and there was a complete failure of my institution to support me because all of the principals had left.

We approached Lejeune to learn more about the lawsuit; a spokesperson at Allegheny replied and declined to comment. We could not find any public record of the suit; according to Ehrlich, Allegheny settled the suit.

Here’s the retraction notice for “What role do periodontal pathogens play in osteoarthritis and periprosthetic joint infections of the knee?:”

The studies under the clinical trial set forth in the article were performed with a large group of co-investigators. The principal investigator of the clinical trial is not listed as a co-author of this article and he asserts he has not validated the accuracy of the data presented in the article. Further, co-investigators who are unnamed authors of this article have produced manuscripts with data from the clinical trial. Being the duty of authors to submit works which have not been published in whole or in part elsewhere, and upon notification of the above dispute by the lead author, the article has been retracted.

The paper has been cited eight times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

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