Controversial pediatrics researcher has 20-year-old paper retracted for misconduct

A journal has retracted a paper on a drug for a blood disorder 20 years after it was published — and 17 years after an author of the article was told to request the move by his university.

The retraction is of a paper in Therapeutic Drug Monitoring by Gideon Koren and colleagues, then at the University of Toronto (U of T):

The article “An investigation into variability in the therapeutic response to deferiprone in patients with thalassemia major” by Diav-Citrin et al. has been retracted due to concerns regarding academic and research misconduct, including the use of collaborators’ data without their consent, and, as a consequence, inappropriate assignment of authorship. Moreover, the manufacturer of the studied drug was not appropriately identified as a funding source. This was corrected in an Erratum published in Therapeutic Drug Monitoring, Volume 26, Number 2, April 2004. However, none of the other issues were addressed. This retraction is supported by the results of an independent investigation conducted by the University of Toronto and a written retraction request by the senior author, who is listed as the last author.

It’s the third update to Koren’s papers following an investigation in December by The Toronto Star that found apparent problems in more than 400 of his papers. Last month, Canadian Family Physician issued a correction related to two of Koren’s papers.

And it’s yet another episode in a long-running saga that involved a feud between Koren, who was recently placed on leave by his current employer in Israel while they investigate his role in these incidents, and former colleague Nancy Olivieri. A faculty committee at U of T found that Koren had published the now-retracted paper without Olivieri’s permission. As the Star reported in December:

In 2000, the heads of Sick Kids and U of T suspended and fined Koren, who was also stripped of an endowed chair for “repeatedly lying” and sending anonymous “poison pen letters” to doctors and the media disparaging Olivieri and her supporters. He denied writing the letters until DNA evidence provided irrefutable proof.

As the Star has reported, misconduct at Koren’s Motherisk lab at the U of T

tore apart vulnerable families and prompted two government-commissioned inquiries, which found Motherisk made millions selling its hair tests for use in criminal and child-protection cases despite the fact that it often failed to verify its preliminary results. This was contrary to international forensic standards for evidence presented in court.

Koren: ‘I DID NOT ask to retract the paper’

In 2002, following an investigation that found Koren had committed misconduct in the TDM paper, a dean at U of T, according to the Star,

insisted Koren write to the journal to acknowledge his error and request the article be deleted from the scientific record.

Koren told Retraction Watch by email yesterday that he was

forced to do so, writing to TDM in 2002 and asking to do so. However, the publisher of TDM, Mr Hop Wexler, who investigated the issue as related to TDM, REJECTED our retraction request, citing that the paper was scientifically genuine.

The editor of the TDM at the time, Steven Soldin,

told the Star he doesn’t recall a conversation with Koren about the paper after it was published and said he was never contacted by any official from U of T.

Koren noted that the journal published an erratum in 2004

adding the name of Apotex [the maker of deferiprone] which was erroneously not included in the original paper.

He continued:

I believe the new move to retract the paper follows a request from The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto to inquire the status of this paper. The new Editor of TDM, Dr [Uwe] Christians, wrote to me 2 days ago to let me know of the retraction, citing my “own request ” to do so in 2002, and totally ignoring TDM ‘s decision not to retract it.

Despite the language of the notice, Koren said that

I DID NOT ask to retract the paper. It is the editor of the journal TDM who asked to do so, and unfortunately I believe he knowingly misleads everyone. I STRONGLY OPPOSE the retraction.

Koren said he had written to Christians, of the University of Colorado, Denver, saying:

We believe that the retraction you plan will distort the public record, will defame us and will lead us to commence legal action against you.

The paper has been cited 20 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. Koren said that

…this planned retraction will remove from the public record an important and genuine paper, despite the fact that it predicted correctly the action of the drug. This will grossly bias the literature. If the retraction goes ahead, we shall republish it to ensure that the scientific facts are balanced.

Christians has not responded to our request for comment.

Update, 2000 UTC, 2/19/19: Christians tells us:

The ongoing investigation of Dr. Koren’s Motherisk Program at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto brought this manuscript to our attention and this prompted Therapeutic Drug Monitoring to thoroughly investigate. Based on the evidence that was provided to us, it became clear that the issue of using collaborators’ data without their consent and inappropriate assignment of authorship had not yet appropriately been resolved. Based on said evidence and in compliance with the COPE guidelines, it was decided to retract this publication.

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6 thoughts on “Controversial pediatrics researcher has 20-year-old paper retracted for misconduct”

  1. The correspondence towards the end is somewhat difficult to follow:

    Koren told Retraction Watch by email yesterday that he was “forced to [ask for the paper to be stuck from the record]”

    but then

    “Koren said that I DID NOT ask to retract the paper. It is the editor of the journal TDM who asked to do so…”

    Is it that Koren does not consider his 2002 email a retraction request, or are these inconsistent statements from separate correspondences with Koren?

      1. So he used Dr Olivieri’s name without permission and when she has the temerity to call him out on it he sends “poison pen” letters (seriously, it’s the 21st century, what kind of person would think that’s a bright idea?) and “denied writing the letters until DNA evidence provided irrefutable proof.”

        Top of the leader board. A place in the history of science. Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

    1. From the article we link to:

      “Last week, Sick Kids, which housed the Motherisk lab, announced it will undertake a wholesale review of Koren’s vast body of published work, after the Star presented the hospital with findings from this investigation that identified what appear to be problems in more than 400 of Koren’s papers, including the Jan. 2000 hair-testing article, collectively cited more than 6,000 times.”

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