Journal expresses concern — we think — about papers by Surgisphere founder

More than six months after two of the world’s leading medical journals retracted papers on COVID-19 based on suspect data from a questionable company, a journal says it has cleared a raft of articles by the controversial founder of the firm. Or, has it? 

Vascular, a SAGE title, says it has investigated all papers in the journal by Sapan Desai that relied on  “a significant amount of data,” whatever that means. Desai, you’ll recall, founded Surgisphere, which is now famous for refusing to share its data in articles published in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine

We counted 18 11 papers in Vascular on which Desai was a co-author. The journal says — in a rather oblique way — that all but two of the articles it examined either checked out or didn’t include enough data to raise alarms.

The expression of concern reads:

The Journal Editor and SAGE Publishing hereby issue an expression of concern for the following articles:

Dua A, Zepeda R, Hernanez FC, Igbadumhe AA and Desai SS. The national incidence of iatrogenic popliteal artery injury during total knee replacement. Vascular 2015;23(5):455–458. doi:10.1177/1708538114552464

Dua A, Algodi MM, Furlough C, Ray H and Desai SS. Development of a scoring system to estimate mortality in abdominal aortic aneurysms management. Vascular 2015;23(6):586–591. doi:10.1177/1708538114563825

In light of the recent issues with inappropriate data collection and publication by Dr Sapan Desai,1 the Editor in Chief has reviewed, with SAGE, all of Dr Desai’s prior publications in Vascular where results rely on a significant amount of data. These publications have all been critically reviewed and there does not appear to be any inaccurate data or inappropriate use of data. Publications in Vascular authored or co-authored by Dr Desai that did not contain significant data or are case reports did not require further critical review.

That notice is confusing, so we asked Ross Milner, the editor-in-chief of Vascular, for help parsing the language. Our attempt didn’t go well.

First, Milner professed not to know what an EOC was — which struck us as odd for a journal editor who had just published one — and insisted that:

none of his papers in Vascular originated from Surgisphere data as far as we can tell.

We explained that EOC stood for “Expression Of Concern,” and asked Milner to clarify whether the notice he’d written meant to single out the two 2015 articles as being, well, concerning. His reply: 

We do not have specific doubts, just knowing that there is a large database use in those articles. I have spoken to other authors and do not have a concern.

So, we asked, was the expression of concern really saying that the journal/SAGE (and therefore readers) do NOT need to be concerned about those two papers — or any other of Desai’s papers in Vascular, for that matter — although those two articles did in fact use Surgisphere data? 

Which prompted this response: 

NO Surgisphere data was used in any of these papers.  End of story. You are misinterpreting my responses. I am not responding to any more emails that you send if you misinterpret my responses.

Clear now? We aren’t. 

In addition to the Lancet and NEJM retractions, the Surgisphere debacle has claimed a Lancet editorial based on its retracted article, and a scoring tool for emergency medicine specialists in Africa

Update, 2330 UTC, 12/16/20: A SAGE spokesperson tells us:

Desai has published 18 articles between three SAGE journals. For the 11 published in Vascular, the editor determined only two required critical review because the results relied on a significant amount of data (the two articles noted in the EOC), while the other nine did not contain significant data or are case reports. The EOC was published for the two reviewed articles in the interest of transparency.

The two other journals are still reviewing the Desai-authored papers.

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5 thoughts on “Journal expresses concern — we think — about papers by Surgisphere founder”

  1. I appreciate your trying to clarify this rather confusing statement from the journal. However, snarking at the editor in chief for not being familiar with the abbreviation “EOC”—which is not actually an abbreviation that is widely used in the scientific publishing field—just looks obnoxious and unprofessional.

    1. Snarking? Obnoxious? I think it depends who you ask.

      I think the writing style is dry, witty, and entertaining, and I hope there is more of this.

      IMO, always a plus for writing to possibly ruffle the feathers of some potentially stuffy pretentious academics who think they know everything, for example, this “scholar rising”:

  2. Out of curiosity, where did you see that Surgisphere data was used? I looked at one of the papers ( and this was the data source: “This was a retrospective cross-sectional analysis of hos- pital discharge data from 1998 to 2011 using the Health Care Utilization Project-Nationwide Inpatient Sample (HCUP-NIS) database, which is a stratified 20% sample of all inpatient admissions to nonfederal, acute care hospitals maintained by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It is the largest all-payer inpatient database in the US, with records from approximately eight million hospital stays each year.”

    1. We didn’t. The editor’s comments were vague on which “large database” was used, so we tried to clarify.

  3. “where results rely on a significant amount of data” ??? What a strange content free statement in an Expression of Concern for a scientific paper.

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