Home Correction journal An Elsevier newspaper said it would withdraw 10 articles two years ago. This is still not the case. – Retraction watch

An Elsevier newspaper said it would withdraw 10 articles two years ago. This is still not the case. – Retraction watch

Andre Gray

An Elsevier journal sat for two years on its decision to withdraw 10 papers from researchers with known misconduct issues, according to emails seen by Retraction Watch.

The Journal of Neurological Sciences had decided by June 2020 to withdraw the articles by Yoshihiro Sato and Jun Iwamoto, which currently occupy the fourth and sixth positions in our ranking of retractions, according to the emails. But the articles have still not been retracted, to the disappointment of one of the data sleuths who raised concerns about the work – and in the meantime have been quoted more than a dozen times, according to Web of Clarivate science.

As Andrew Gray of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, wrote to a Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) staff member who became involved in the case:

This delay is very clearly not in the interest of the integrity of the publication.

Gray and colleagues Alison Avenell and Mark Bolland reviewed Sato and Iwamoto’s work and notified reviews of the issues, leading to over 100 retractions, as readers may know.

The group contacted the Journal of Neurological Sciences in 2017 about two clinical trials by Sato and Iwamoto, and raised concerns about eight more papers over the next two years.

When the journal failed to act, Gray turned to COPE in 2020. In May, a COPE staff member wrote to a director of Elsevier’s publishing services “in the hope that we can facilitate a dialogue on these issues. According to a summary of Gray’s concerns that the staffer shared:

These concerns included unethical study conduct, implausible research productivity, implausible participant recruitment, implausible study conduct, implausible data, impossible data, duplicate results reporting, recycling of text, authorship and data errors.

Since May 2018, we have sent approximately 20 emails expressing concerns or requesting updates on these documents. The most recent of these was sent on April 2, 2020. The editorial staff of the review simply defers to Elsevier staff, who either do not respond (most of the time) or do so unnecessarily (occasionally) . The recipients of the emails included senior Elsevier research integrity staff. In June 2018, one of us (AG) discussed the situation with an Elsevier Research Integrity Officer, who assured us that the issue would be resolved. Several Elsevier journals have been among those to have withdrawn some of the more than 100 publications by Dr Sato and his colleagues so far, so the editor has extensive knowledge of the matter. For example, it was an employee of Elsevier who discovered that the ethics review claimed in several of these articles is false because the institutions in question did not have an ethics committee at the time the work was reported.

Meanwhile, readers of the articles have no idea there were any problems, 3½ years after the journal learned of the problems with the work of Dr Sato and his colleagues. This is a most unfortunate and unnecessary situation.

We call on COPE to investigate this situation and demand that its member journal fully address concerns about the integrity of these publications and take prompt action to protect readers from continued exposure to them. i.e. remove them.

Here are the 10 items:

In June 2020, Elsevier’s Director of Publishing Services responded by saying the articles would be retracted:

The society and the publisher share Dr. Grey’s concerns and have made the decision to withdraw these ten articles.

Best practice would normally require the journal to contact all (living) authors before their article is withdrawn. Unfortunately, this proved very difficult to do consistently in this case, given the age of the documents. On the other hand, it is essential that the literature be corrected, of course.

Because we have gone to great lengths to find and contact all authors, we plan to proceed with these retractions now unless COPE has serious concerns about this approach.

The documents have not yet been removed or marked with expressions of concern. Gray continued with the COPE staffer, who told him this month:

We have continued our contacts with the publisher and we understand that their follow-up is active. We’ve asked the publisher to provide you with an update on the status of the publications.

Elsevier’s director of publishing services did not respond to our request for comment.

We asked Gray how his experience with the Journal of Neurological Sciences compares with other journals with which it has been contacted. He told us:

We have already published on the responsiveness of journals in the Sato case. It is highly variable and inconsistent, both in timing and in results. The situation of the JNS is one of the worst examples.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the JNS case is that Elsevier’s integrity team has known about it for several years and no action has been taken. Unfortunately, the publishing staff was unwilling to respond to requests from the academics concerned and, it seems, from COPE.

Engaging COPE hasn’t been very helpful either, Gray told us:

It’s also slow and focuses on the process (following ambiguous guidelines) of assessing concerns, rather than how to assess the integrity of the post. We believe this does not serve the interests of magazine readers very well.

The result is as follows, in the words of Grey:

There are a large number of Sato Iwamoto Group articles that are not retracted, despite very clear integrity concerns.

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