Four dead authors, a duplicate publication and questions: Solve this one!

A study spanning dozens of years, four deceased authors and a retraction for duplicate publication. Sounds like a recipe for an episode of that new show about medical detectives (not epidemiologists; detectives with guns). 

We’d like to be able to explain, but, well, we can’t. What we do know is that the authors of a 2019 article about the role of aluminum in neurologic disease have retracted their paper because it’s a duplicate of an article some of them had published in 2018. But that’s as clear as things get. 

Here’s the retraction notice, which, like any good mystery, is full of question marks:

The Editor-in Chief of Molecular Neurobiology has retracted this article [1] at the request of the corresponding author. This is because it significantly overlaps with their previous publication [2]. Both articles report the same results and as such this article is redundant.

Walter J. Lukiw, Maire E. Percy, and Zhide Fang agree to this retraction. William J. Walsh and Yuhai Zhao do not agree to this retraction. Aileen I. Pogue, Nathan M. Sharfman, Vivian Jaber, and Wenhong Li have not responded to any correspondence from the editor/publisher about this retraction. Donald R. C. McLachlan, Catherine Bergeron, Peter N. Alexandrov, and Theodore P. A. Kruck are deceased.

[1] McLachlan, D.R.C., Bergeron, C., Alexandrov, P.N. et al. Mol Neurobiol (2019) 56: 1531.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12035-018-1441-x

[2] McLachlan, D.R.C., Alexandrov, P.N., Walsh, W.J. et al. J Alzheimers Dis Parkinsonism (2018) 8(6): 457.  https://doi.org/10.4172/2161-0460.1000457

The 2018 paper, we should note, was published by OMICS, which has been ordered to pay the U.S. government $50 million for “unfair and deceptive practices.”

Not a lot of answers

The journal’s editor, Nicholas Bazan, didn’t respond to our query, but he did forward it to a BioMed Central spokesperson Anne Korn, who told us:

We were contacted by a whistleblower regarding concerns about a possible duplicate publication due to similarities between the below article and an article published in November 2018 in the Journal of Alzheimers Disease & Parkinsonism. The concerns were investigated carefully following an established process and the article retracted.

We asked if the dissenting authors provided any rationale for doing so. Korn told us: 

[W]e treat correspondence with authors as confidential, so we cannot provide further insight into why the authors might have disagreed… 

Nor could she shed any light about the odd matter of the four deceased authors. McLachlan, a Canadian, died in 2017. However, we can’t find any information about the deaths of the three others. [See update at end.]

Korn added that

We are continuing to explore all aspects of this matter carefully… 

She couldn’t tell us if Lukiw’s position as an associate editor of the journal influenced its decision to publish the now-retracted paper: 

I am afraid that we are not able to disclose confidential matters relating to the appointments, contractual relationships and agreements with Editors of our journals.  

Lukiw did not respond to our queries about the articles.

Update, 1900 UTC, 1/28/20: Benjamin Guglielmi points out:

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2 thoughts on “Four dead authors, a duplicate publication and questions: Solve this one!”

  1. Nor could she shed any light about the odd matter of the four deceased authors. McLachlan, a Canadian, died in 2017. However, we can’t find any information about the deaths of the three others.

    The collaboration stretched across 36 years, so “old age” might account for this attrition. We need not postulate a conspiracy.

    Apparently one version was sent to OMICS on 20 November 2018, and the other to the Springer journal on 21 November 2018. Someone must have thought at the time that this was a good idea. The OMICS version was accepted two days later (“peer review” is not a problem there), and was on their website by 29 November. Mind you, the Molecular Neurobiology was accepted in six days, suggestive of an accelerated review process.

    This is a great pity as the study itself is important, and people are reluctant to give scammers a citation. If I were working in this area, I’d probably cite Molecular Neurobiology anyway (with a note about “technical retraction”).

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