More than 100 of an anesthesiologist’s papers retracted

Showa University Hospital

There’s a new entry on the Retraction Watch Leaderboard. And this one is also the fourth member of the Retraction Watch Century Club.

An anesthesiology researcher in Japan is now up to 117 retractions – putting him third on our list of most-retracted authors.

Hironobu Ueshima, formerly of Showa University Hospital in Tokyo, was found to have committed misconduct in 142 papers, according to a pair of investigations, one by his erstwhile institution and another by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists (JSA). We first reported on the existence of the investigation in June 2020, some three months after Australian anesthesiologist and journal editor John Loadsman raised concerns with journals involved in the case. 

The JSA report, released in May 2021, found evidence of misconduct including fabricated data and improper authorship in the articles, as well as in several unpublished studies by Ueshima. Showa also sanctioned three of Ueshima’s frequent co-authors: Hiroshi Otake, who was demoted from his position as chair of the anesthesiology department; and Eiko Hara and Sakatoshi Yoshiyama, whose doctoral degrees were revoked.

More than 100 of those articles appeared in the Journal of Clinical Anesthesia, an Elsevier title. Here’s a sample notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief as it contains fabricated/falsified data. The Editor-in-Chief decision was based on the investigation by the Japanese Society of Anesthesiologists which concluded that no research was conducted and all the data including patient backgrounds were fabricated.

The society also concluded that the corresponding author, Dr. Ueshima presented the names of the individuals not involved or only partially involved in research as lead authors, presented the names of the individuals not involved in research as co-authors and submitted papers without the agreement of the co-authors. The investigation report can be found here.

But for reasons we can’t understand, the publisher has flagged the papers not as “Retracted” but as “Withdrawn” – which means that they show up that way in PubMed, perhaps the most widely used database of peer-reviewed papers about the biomedical literature.

After all, someone searching a database for the word “Retracted” or “Retraction” wouldn’t discover Ueshima’s catalog (unless, of course, they’re looking in our database), and “Withdrawn” doesn’t carry the same implications as “Retracted.” We’ve been writing for nearly a decade about why Elsevier’s use of the term – which they often use to downgrade retractions for no apparent reason, and as a rationale for not including explanations for the moves – is problematic.

For that matter, so is their practice – shared with several other publishers on our naughty list – of not assigning a new DOI to retraction notices, and overwriting the HTML of the original article’s abstract page without adding a date of retraction.

And this all took nine months since the JSA report.

We asked Elsevier for an explanation but have yet to receive a response.

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13 thoughts on “More than 100 of an anesthesiologist’s papers retracted”

  1. What is the deal with anesthesiology? All disciplines get a share of big ego, bad actors who commit misconduct, but anesthesiology seems to get more than it’s share of ink at the RW presses. And along with Elsevier and the miscreant himself, his institution should be in for severe criticism. How does a research hospital have a prolific researcher who pumps out papers that were never in the budget, and presumably never had research ethics review? (Presumably- ethics reviews are for research on human and animal subjects, so dry labbed, research subjects that never existed don’t need reviews)
    An amazing lack of curiosity.

    1. Chris, odds are that this type of serial misconduct is NOT unique to anesthesiology. After all, why would it be? But, I sincerely hope that I am wrong because, frankly, the alternative would be truly disheartening.

    2. I suspect a large part of this is observation bias; many fraudulent papers were uncovered by John Carlisle, who specifically looked at anesthesia papers (at least initially). That shock may have galvanized more people in the field to search for additional papers, but may have had little/no impact outside the field. Someone like Dr. Bik may have uncovered more papers, but I get the impression she examines a much broader range of topics.

      It may also be that anesthesia journals/societies are more willing to address these issues, hence they have more retractions.

    3. I suspect that anaesthesiology surfaced because there is a rising culture of investigation. I have not seen similar cultures in other specialties.
      There is no evidence to suggest that there’s more in anaesthesiology rather there’s less in others.

  2. Anesthesiologists are notorious for making up what they call research since they are mostly motivated by status inferiority complex when compared to other true physicians. Best example of that would be the biased data they claim about CRNAs as unsafe when all the true research says otherwise. Very sad.

    1. Wow! That was a LOL moment! Are you a “true physician”? My guess is “no” as you would “know” all anesthesiologists are graduates of accredited medical/osteopathic schools. By definition, all anesthesiologists are physicians and there is no category for “true” or, for that matter, “false” physicians! Your physician envy shines brightly through your post.

      1. Thanks… you took the words right outta mouth! (and wrote them with considerably more eloquence than I could have!)

  3. I think it goes to show that institutions themselves should be scrutinizing high-output researchers more closely. Easy to check whether there are a prolific number of ethical approvals for human or animal work, or approvals for large n studies, in case like this. Would be pretty easy to notice mismatches I would have thought. Indeed, what has the institution who employed this fraudulent clinician scientist done to avoid having these sorts of shenanigans occur again?

    Sorry also to see a previous comment maligning the anesthestiology specialty. Interesting to see that this sort of thinking still exists in the 21st century… I say that as a scientist, with no skin in the game.

  4. Speaking as an anaesthetist and intensive care physician and clinical researcher, I think there is a lot more emphasis and awareness in these disciplines after some high profile research frauds. I suspect there is a lot of under-recognised research fraud in other disciplines which is yet to emerge and I commend Retraction Watch for helping shine a light in the darkness!!

  5. 48 Retraction notices for Ueshima papers have dropped in J. Clinical Anesthesia, dated 4 April. These seem to be additional to the earlier Withdrawals.

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