Researcher faked the names of Duke and University of Chicago co-authors

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A medical journal has retracted two papers by a researcher with a penchant for fabricating co-authors.

According to the Singapore Medical Journal and earlier news reports, Shunjie Chua published the articles with two fictitious authors: Mark Pitts and Peter Lamark, whom he placed at Duke University and the University of Chicago. 

The articles, “A simple, flexible and readily applicable method of boundary construction to prevent leech migration,” and “A handy way to handle hemoclips® in surgeries,” appeared in 2015. Per the retraction notice for the former

Following investigation of allegations of professional misconduct, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) has confirmed that the corresponding author, Chua SJ, had provided fictitious names as co-authors of this paper.

In view of the misrepresentation of authorship claims, the Singapore Medical Journal fully retracts this paper from its published record.

In August, the Straits Times reported that the SMC, which had given him an 18-month suspension, was pushing to strip Chua of  his medical license — a step his lawyers said was extreme: 

His lawyers, Mr Julian Tay and Ms Theodora Kee, said the houseman’s medical career was halted even before it started but he has “paid his penance” and a striking-off would be a crushing sentence.

Mr Tay also questioned the legal basis for the disciplinary proceedings as Dr Chua’s provisional registration as a medical practitioner expired in December 2016 and he has not practised since then.

The newspaper noted that in addition to fabricating authors, Chua also misrepresented his own credentials and inappropriately disclosed health information about a patient to their employer: 

In April 2016, he was on his second posting at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital when he was contacted by the employer of a patient who questioned him about a medical certificate he had issued. Dr Chua relented to the employer’s demands and disclosed information about the patient to the employer without the patient’s consent.

The retractions are unlikely to end there. We found several more publications by Chua, Pitts and Lamark, including a pair of letters in JAMA: Facial Plastic Surgery and another in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Then there’s this comment in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which Chua claims to have written with one Jing Li of China and Jeff Ming Xuan Chua, of the University of Chicago. We haven’t been able to confirm the identity of either author. 

Intriguingly, Chua thanks Jeff Ming Xuan Chua, whom he places at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, in at least two other letters, this one in 2015 in Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, and the one in JAMA: Facial Plastic Surgery

There is of course a way to verify co-authors’ existence and affiliations: Have manuscript submission systems email all co-authors at their institutional addresses to verify they agreed to sign onto papers. We’re always a bit surprised to learn how many journals don’t do that routinely.

Nancy Chescheir, the editor-in-chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told us she was unaware of the case and would investigate the letter.

Susan Jensen, director of production and editorial operations for Mary Ann Liebert, which now publishes JAMA: FPS, told us: 

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. just acquired this title this year, and we had not been made aware of the investigation.  However, we are grateful that you alerted us as we will begin to delve deeper and will let you know of our findings. 

An email to Chua bounced back as undeliverable.

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9 thoughts on “Researcher faked the names of Duke and University of Chicago co-authors”

  1. Didn’t the reviewers have any familiarity with the literature in that field? If so, they should have known that there was nobody at Duke or Chicago with those names or doing that kind of research. It’s not as if he had co-authors from obscure universities that nobody would recognize.

    1. Most journals (at least the ones I’m familiar with) do not subject correspondence/letters to the editor to a formal/full peer review process.

      I do think the punishment is a tad bit harsh for the crime in this instance. This is probably a smart chap who just tried too hard to get ahead and succumbed to the increasing pressures of competition for residency positions, research grants and academic jobs.

      1. I would go one step further to say that he should not have been punished at all. Real co-authors that did not contribute at all get included all the time and they are never punished. Why are we punishing someone for adding non-existent co-authors? If the content of the paper passed the review fair an square, it shouldn’t have mattered that fake co-authors were added. If the review was biased, that’s not the author’s fault but the reviewer or the editor’s.

        1. It’s lying. That’s enough for me. The fact that people lie in other circumstances does not persuade me that we should tolerate lying in this circumstance (or in those–I was put on a paper recently without notice and I made a fuss, because I think this is wrong).

          No peer review is completely thorough: at some level we have to trust that the authors, while they may make mistakes, are not lying to us. This individual has demonstrated that they *are* lying to us. It casts significant doubt on everything else that they say.

        2. Amazing what utter tripe both XY and Z write.
          By your “logic” [Z] anyone writing an article/scientific paper should be allowed to put any person’s name they believe will get the item published.
          So I could write my paper and then append a Nobel Prize winner as co-author… this according to your standards of “honesty and openess.”
          And, XY, doctors and research workers are supposed to be honest in their ethical behaviour and comportment.
          Mr Chua knows right from wrong [I hope]. This is a serious offence of lying and presenting false information. This can even extend into everyday practice with patients and colleagues and have bad outcomes.
          I ask you two, XY and Z, a question; Why would you reward bad behaviour?

          1. Dear Sleeper,
            I am not suggesting that we reward bad behaviour. I do agree that his actions were dishonest and wrong, but there should always be room for rehabilitation and forgiveness. I think in this instance, he has been punished enough — a warning and suspension would suffice but in this case, he is effectively disallowed to practise medicine ever again. Such a waste, really.

    2. It may depend on the exact field of study, but I do think that I am familiar with the literature in my field and I definitely wouldn’t think twice if there was an author from a large university like Duke of Chicago whose name I didn’t recognise. Grad students and postdocs come and go.

  2. Where is frequent commenter “Failed Scientist”? He should be here to tell us why the department chairs at Duke and Chicago should be fired (or, per a recent FSI comment, poked with sharp sticks), because two imaginary researchers in those departments clearly got their imaginary jobs (or some other professional benefit) because of their fraudulent authorship of Chua papers. Because obviously those department chairs are not doing their jobs or supervising their imaginary workers adequately.

  3. In my own field, I don’t think I would know everyone at all well known universities. I would get suspicious if the co-authors are from english speaking universities but the manuscript english is poor. Although, I have come across such instances where the co-author is just a prolific publisher and was probably too focused on the science to notice the english was poor. Authors do sometimes add “real” (consenting) co-authors from well known institutions, usually in an attempt to intimidate the journal editor and reviewers. I think these issues are rare and I am strongly in favour of international collaboration in science and engineering.

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