“We got scammed:” Authors “sincerely apologize” for plagiarism they blame a ghostwriter for

The journal Cureus is retracting three articles by a mashup of authors from Pakistan and the United States for plagiarism, which the researchers blame on their use of a hired gun to prepare the papers.

The articles were published over a roughly one-month stretch in August and September 2018 and covered an impressively polymathic range of topics, from lupus to heart disease. Although the list of authors varied, a few names remained constant. One, Asad Ali, of Lahore Medical College and Institute of Dentistry, was the first author on all three papers. Another was Malik Qistas Ahmad, whose affiliation is given as the University of Arizona Cancer Center in Tucson although he no longer works there.   

The papers (not in chronological order) are: “Systemic lupus erythematosus: an overview of the disease pathology and its management”;  “Neurogenic stunned myocardium: a literature review”; and “An overview of the pathology and emerging treatment approaches for interstitial cystitis/bladder pain syndrome.”

John R. Adler, the editor (and founder) of Cureus, told us that a reader pointed out the plagiarism, which escaped the journal’s plagiarism detection system.

The retraction notice for the first reads:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief as it contains significant plagiarism from Yeo S, Dias S, Isenberg D. Advances in systemic lupus erythematosus. Medicine. 2018;46(2):84-92. 10.1016/j.mpmed.2017.11.010

A key condition of article submission is that authors must explicitly declare that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data must be appropriately cited. This duplication was not detected by Cureus plagiarism check software as much of the material had been rewritten just enough to avoid detection. While the authors have maintained that this was the result of working with a contract editor, they are ultimately responsible for the draft submitted.

As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The Cureus Journal of Medical Science takes a very strong view on this matter and we apologize that this was not detected during the submission process. The relevant author institutions and departments have been notified.

The other two notices are virtually identical, except for the first sentence noting the duplicated material.

Ahmad in an email expressed regret for the matter:

I am really apologetic as a corresponding author. All of these three articles were short review articles and I could’ve never imagined such potential problems with them.

He also forwarded us a letter he and his colleagues sent to Cureus claiming to have been “scammed” by an unscrupulous ghostwriter:

We are genuinely shocked by the irregularities you pointed out in our article ‘Neurogenic stunned myocardium.’ Our team decided to trace the sequence of events to find out what went wrong. We wrote an excellent article. After completing the literature review article, we sent our material to a person claiming to be a professional research editor. He extensively modified our article and claimed to have checked for plagiarism as well. He provided us with a paid service, and we trusted that he would comply with the rules of research and publications. He provided us with the corrected articles, we checked the articles for plagiarism on a free online plagiarism software and paid him money. Then we uploaded the articles on Cureus journal and the articles went through the peer-review process as usual and got published without any problem, so we continued to hire him one article after another. During this entire process, our team never got to know about these blatant irregularities, and hence, all this happened by chance alone. It is unfortunate that we got scammed by this editing party in Pakistan.

After you pointed out this matter, we looked at all the articles he worked on. Unfortunately, we found a few other articles that have potential irregularities, i.e. they mostly contain text that our team did not write and was added by that personnel editing our work. We cannot take any responsibility for the authenticity of these texts and cannot have these articles to our credit since they were excessively modified to the point that they are very different from what we wrote. So I would like, on behalf of my team, to request you humbly to retract the following articles fully:

1. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: An Overview of the Disease Pathology and Its Management

2. An Overview of the Pathology and Emerging Treatment Approaches for Interstitial Cystitis/ Bladder Pain Syndrome

We admit that we failed to recognize this misdemeanor on the part of the person we hired and we are disappointed for the occurrence of this terrible situation. Then, we had a little resource, and we had to rely on his service and free software for plagiarism check. As we become more resourceful and more experienced in our field, we will make sure that this type of unfortunate incident never happens in the future. Although we took everything about writing these reviews very seriously, this was an unforeseen situation that we were not able to avert at that time. We are willing to work harder to write more extensive reviews with the best possible contributions. We know that plagiarism is in no way condoned in the academic world; we sincerely apologize for the plagiarism that is committed to our articles.

Ahmad, who currently does not have an academic affiliation, added that he won’t use the services of a ghost again:

I plan to work with my future institution/ organization only. … Getting this misconduct issue label was a terrible experience for me.

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6 thoughts on ““We got scammed:” Authors “sincerely apologize” for plagiarism they blame a ghostwriter for”

  1. Certainly on of the most novel author defenses: the stated authors weren’t the authors doing the writing and the ghost did it

  2. That is not right. This is a trend going on where a lot of people just play this publication game to get into med schools or residency. This needs to be stopped.

  3. As a researcher based in Pakistan, this saddens me. There has been a crazy race in health care professionals in the last decade to publish more and more, without any regards to the quality and by any means possible. This is just the tip of the iceberg. More horrible forms of scientific misconduct and violations of research ethics are being done and almost no one seems to bother. There is a need to teach research ethics and scientific misconduct in undergraduate medical schools and training programs

    1. I agree with you, dear Dr. Rathore! Our institutions must invest in training the young students.

  4. I believe the author’s have taken full responsibility and should be given another chance of publication through cureus. It is clear to see that the authors are guilty of not making sure the final copy was plagarism proof…whether they did it or the ghost writer did it…the point is they accept, and learned, and now will do better.
    People make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are caught so that they will not be repeated again.
    I hope we all readers can also learn from this scenario and work diligently and perfectly on our publications.

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