An author says his work should be “widely heralded and promoted.” So he published it 3 times.

Barislav Momčilović thinks that iodine status is — after iron deficiency — the “main public health” issue in the world today. So when he figured out what he believed was the best way to test levels of the mineral, he was determined to get the message out.

A little too determined, perhaps: He published the same information three times. And one journal caught on.  Last week, Thyroid retracted “Hair Iodine for Human Iodine Status Assessment,” a 2014 paper that they say overlapped with two earlier works.

While publishing duplicate work is considered by some to be just a violation of restrictive publisher copyright agreements, the presence of such duplicates in the literature can bias systematic reviews and other attempts to describe the state of the evidence in a given field. In a retraction notice, Thyroid noted that this was a case of

prior redundant publication in two other journals, without any cross referencing:

  • Momčilović B, Prejac J, Višnjević V, Skalnaya MG, Mimica N, Drmić S, Skalny AV. Hair iodine for human iodine status assessment. J Orthomol Med. 2013;28(4)175–185.
  • Prejac J, Višnjević V, Drmić S, Skalny AA, Mimica N, Momčilović B. A novel concept to derive iodine status of human populations from frequency distribution properties of a hair iodine concentration. J Trace Elem Med Biol. 2014;28(2):205–211.

The notice continues on to say that the journal has notified the editors of the other two journals in question, and that

It is important to note that Dr. Momčilović and his coauthors appealed the Editor’s decision to retract this article based on their belief that the information contained in the article should be “widely heralded and promoted.” However, as this premise is in direct violation of Thyroid’s strict policy on publishing papers that have not been published elsewhere, the appeal was denied.

The now-retracted paper in Thyroid has been cited just eight times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, while the J Trace Elem Med Biol paper has been cited six times. (The Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine is not indexed by Clarivate.)

Still, Momčilović, of the Institute for Research and Development of Sustainable Ecosystems, in Zagreb, Croatia, says the work is important because while most iodine measurement relies on urine tests, he believes hair levels are a better indicator of long-term status. The Thyroid article, he says,

paved the way for the assessment of the bioelement nutritional status (including iodine) by analyzing the hair multi-bioelement frequency distribution analysis. For the first time it became possible to clearly define if the intake of [a] bioelement into the human body was, insufficient, adequate, or excessive. Even the more, and for the first time, it became possible to further differentiate between the low adequate, safe, and high adequate levels within the adequacy range. Currently, there are no clear cut criteria for assessing bioelement nutritional status except approximation and expert consensus opinion.

Momčilović told Retraction Watch that the triple publication was justified because the Thyroid and J Trace Elem Med Biol data take a “different approach (prospective) to…assessing the bioelement nutritional status,” and that the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine “does not belong to the same high level scientific category as Thyroid.”

Peer review, or filibustering?

He said the peer review process at Thyroid was “such a delaying form of reviewing” that he called it “filibustering.”

I found the first three of the reviews to be a tolerable writing load since I am also a reviewer to several international scientific journals. Each review was followed by the thoroughly revised manuscripts. The last two revised versions were completely rewritten, because the particular reviewer would always start a new set of questions, as if I was giving him private tutorial lectures. ..All that effort was simply ignored, and new requests were put forward.

In contrast, Momčilović said, the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine published the manuscript within a month of submission.

Since reviewing in Thyroid was dragging year after year I decided to approach OM. The whole area of orthomolecular medicine is on the fringe of the medicine today, but I thought that the information I have is so important that it deserves public attention. Providing the information to OM was like passing it to the news, I thought. Indeed, OM is neither in the Current Contents, nor in the PubMed indexing system.

Momčilović also acknowledged that all of the submissions happened as he was having serious medical problems, which “knocked me out completely for several months.” But, he insists,

I do not say that I would not [have] proceeded with the “three places activity” if I were healthy, since I still consider them as three independent activities, and not a case of self-plagiarism.

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