Anesthesiology group loses ten papers at once in one journal

A group of anesthesiology researchers in India has had 10 papers retracted from a single journal because of a “high rate of similarity from various other articles along with overwhelming evidence of data fabrication.”

The retractions came after one of the authors of the papers submitted a manuscript to a different journal whose editor sniffed out issues and raised a red flag.

The Saudi Journal of Anesthesia has retracted ten articles by Anjan Das, of Kolkata, and colleagues:

The ten articles listed below, all with the same corresponding author and published in the Saudi Journal of Anaesthesia from 2014-2018, are being retracted because they have been found to have a number of unattributed sections of content with high rate of similarity from various other articles along with overwhelming evidence of data fabrication. The corresponding author and his institution were contacted and asked to provide the journal with the raw data for these studies but there has been no adequate response within a reasonable timeframe.

Plagiarism, fabrication, unethical or redundant publication violates the editorial policy of the Saudi Journal of Anaesthesia, which follows best practice guidelines given by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), as mentioned in the Information for Authors and codified in the signed statements made by the authors regarding the copyright of their work.

These articles have been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief and Editorial board of the journal.

The 10 articles, published between 2014 and 2018, have been cited a total of 63 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

‘We would like to clean our house’

Abdelazeem Eldawlatly, the editor in chief of the journal, told Retraction Watch that John Loadsman, the editor in chief of another journal — Anaesthesia and Intensive Care — gave him the heads up about the case. Eldawlatly said the journal, following policies from the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) and Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), contacted Das, who promised to send raw data and an explanation of his results. Das did not respond, however, for nearly three weeks.

Eldawlatly also contacted Das’s university, but received no response. In the meantime, he said, the journal sent the articles to independent experts, who found evidence of fabricated data.

The journal “gave him sufficient time to defend his case but unfortunately he did not,” Eldawlatly said. Das was then sent a warning saying that if he did not respond to the journal’s queries, all of his articles would be retracted. He begged the journal not to do that, but the journal has been taking such cases “with great caution and seriousness.” Eldawlatly added:

We would like to clean our house from such misconduct which has become a phenomenon in the publication arena.

The journal’s publisher, Wolters Kluwer/Medknow, came to the same conclusion, Eldawlatly said.

Das has not responded to our request for comment. 

[N]o response to date from the three other journals’

Loadsman, who has played a key role in uncovering numerous cases of misconduct, described what happened for Retraction Watch:

Anaesthesia and Intensive Care received a submission earlier this year from one of the coauthors of several of the papers now retracted by the Saudi Journal of Anesthesia. In that submission to our journal there were a number of features consistent with potential problems with the data. I do not wish to publicly reveal these features in great detail, lest people find ways to circumvent those useful red flags but, amongst other things, the submission was missing some figures, lacked a reference list and there was no mention of ethics committee approval or clinical trial registration for what was supposed to be a randomised clinical trial. Some of the text was also identical to text previously published by others so the author was first asked for the ethics approval documents and the raw individual patient data (IPD). These were very promptly supplied and while there was no obvious problem with the ethics approval document, the spreadsheets containing the IPD displayed essentially incontrovertible evidence of a problem with data veracity. The evidence took several different forms and, again, I do not wish to discuss those in detail for fairly obvious reasons.

While very time-consuming, it is worthwhile to closely examine the prior publications of the authors in this situation, a strategy reaffirmed several years ago during initial investigation of the Yuhji Saitoh case for example. On this occasion, patterns of repeated summary data and near-identical figures became evident across a fairly large number of publications.

The paper submitted to our journal was therefore rejected and the concerns, both with the current submission and with the prior publications, were outlined in some detail. That rejection email was copied to five different email addresses of authorities that could be found on institutional websites, and an institutional investigation of the concerns was specifically requested. The IPD files supplied by the author were included, with the problems highlighted. COVID-19 was just ramping up in various parts of the world so it is very understandable that people might have other priorities, but the only response or acknowledgement we have received to date was from the author to request withdrawal of the paper.

Emails were also sent to the Editors-in-Chief of seven of the journals in which problematic data or figures had been identified. These emails were also all copied to the same institutional authorities as the rejection note. There has not been any response from the authors’ institutions after approximately two months, to any of the many emails sent to them (none of which bounced). Four of the seven Editors did respond immediately, three indicating they would follow up the concerns and one, as you know, has taken swift action. There has been no response to date from the three other journals that were contacted.

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