University cuts anesthesiology researcher’s funding amid four retractions

An anesthesiologist who had his funding revoked for fabricating data has earned a fourth retraction for publishing the same data in two Springer Nature journals. 

Wen-fei Tan, an anesthesiologist at The First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang, is the first author of the recently retracted paper “Changes in the first postoperative night bispectral index of patients after thyroidectomy with different types of primary anesthetic management: a randomized controlled trial,” published in the Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing (JCMC), a Springer Nature journal, in 2017. It has been cited four times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science. 

The retraction notice states: 

Concerns have been raised that part of the trace Fig. 2A is identical with part of the trace for Group Post in Fig. 2b of a different article by some of the same authors [1] which has now been retracted [2]. The Editor-in-Chief no longer has confidence in the data presented. Wen-fei Tan disagrees with this retraction. Zhi-lin Wang, Hong Ma, Feng Jin and Huang-wei Lu have not responded to correspondence from the Publisher about this retraction.

The other article mentioned in the notice, “Preoperative versus postoperative ultrasound-guided rectus sheath block for improving pain, sleep quality and cytokine levels in patients with open midline incisions undergoing transabdominal gynecological surgery: a randomized-controlled trial,” was published in 2018 in BMC Anesthesiology and has been cited 13 times. It shares four authors with the newly retracted article – Tan, Ma, Jin, and Lu – and was pulled for similar reasons. 

According to the 2021 retraction notice

The Editor has retracted this article due to concerns about the data. Part of Fig. 2B is identical to part of Fig. 2A in a different paper by some of the same authors [1]. It was found that the raw data used to generate the figures was identical between two time-points. The authors have subsequently informed the journal that the incorrect data was used to generate the figure in this article. As the data on which the findings are based are not reliable, the article has been retracted.

Author Wen-fei Tan and Feng Jin agree to this retraction. Author Zhe Li, Hong Ma, Xiao-qian Li and Huang-wei Lu have not responded to any correspondence from the Editor about this retraction.

We reached out to Tan and Ma for more information, but have not heard back. We also contacted the editor of JCMC who has not responded to a request for comment. 

A PubPeer commenter, scientific sleuth John Loadsman, flagged the data duplication in the most recently retracted paper in June 2020. Tan responded to the comment: 

I received the letter from editor several days ago. We checked the original data of this paper and found that there was no problem with this paper. We have sent the original data to the editor. Thanks again.

Loadsman had also posted about the retracted BMC Anesthesiology paper that has the identical graph. Tan responded there, too: 

I received the letter from editor several days ago. We checked the original data of this paper and found that we did use wrong data to make the figure. We connected with the editor and waiting for decision of next step.

Loadsman first started looking into the group of authors after receiving a submission from Wen-Fei Tan for Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, where Loadsman is editor-in-chief. Loadsman spotted extensive alterations in the clinical trial registration and anomalies in the raw data. 

“Dr Tan’s efforts to refute my concerns were perplexing and unhelpful,” Loadsman wrote in an email. He decided to reject the paper, and shortly afterwards discovered it had already been rejected by another journal because of the data irregularities. 

In March 2019, Tan submitted another problematic paper to Anaesthesia. The editors’ review of the article described it as “scientifically nonsense”, calling out significant changes in data registered on ClinicalTrials.gov. Tan confirmed the data were fabricated, according to the journal’s editor-in-chief, Andrew Klein. 

When Klein contacted The First Hospital of China Medical University about his concerns with the paper, the reply from the institution came from Hong Ma, the chair of the anesthesiology department, and an author on the retracted papers mentioned previously, who wrote:

I have known all things from Dr. Tan and it is a very serious scandal of our department. We decided to treat this as follow:

1.     Fired the statistics staff, and she is shamed of all thing and fall in deep depression.

2.      Stop the research of Dr. Tan group and withdraw the funding.

3.      We will not publish this paper in any magazine.

4.      Let all department and institute to know all this.

Earlier this June, those same four authors of the two retracted papers, along with several other anesthesiologists from The First Hospital of China Medical University, earned another retraction for the paper “Effects of ultrasound-guided stellate-ganglion block on sleep and regional cerebral oxygen saturation in patients undergoing breast cancer surgery: a randomized, controlled, double-blinded trial,” published in 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing. 

The retraction notice cited overlap between panels of data as the reason for the retraction. It stated the authors provided some raw data on request, but “these did not appear to be sufficient to explain the apparent concerns.”

Tan and Ma are authors on yet another retracted paper in BMC Neuroscience that was pulled for duplicated data. They are also listed as authors on twopapers that have been corrected, and several other papers flagged for data issues on PubPeer.

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