Kenneth R. Abbey, M.D., J.D. et al
ASA Monitor 07 2016, Vol.80, 48-49.
Want to take the easy path to professorship? In 2013, an email offered to sell co-authorship on a paper that it said had already been accepted by the International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology for the low, low price of $14,800. On its way to press, the authorship of the paper swelled first by four authors and later settled on two first authors, but was accepted for publication anyway, at least until the scam was exposed by the Science reporters who uncovered it. As an advertisement by the sellers stated, “The heavy labor can be left to us. Our service can help you make progress in your academic path!”1
Already an expert? How about getting more publications on your CV without the work or expense? Adriane Fugh-Berman, M.D., an expert on herb-drug interactions, was asked if she were interested in writing an article on interactions between herbs and warfarin. She said she might be. She then received a finished manuscript and was told that she need only approve it to be named as an author. The paper was generated by a ghostwriter at a company that wanted to publicize the risks associated with warfarin use and thereby make their competing drug look better. Dr. Fugh-Berman declined to participate and then notified the editors of the journal to which the paper had been submitted.2
Want to publish, but the “fancy journals” aren’t biting? How about publishing in an “open-access journal” (OAJ)? OAJs are journals that are published online and therefore not subject to the costs and size limitations of paper publication. And while there are excellent OAJs, there are also “predatory” ones. In particular, some OAJs charge authors to publish and appear willing to publish anything that comes with a check for the asking price (typically around $1,800).3
Unfortunately for our specialty, we have not been immune to publication shenanigans. In 2011, Anesthesia & Analgesia reported on widespread fabrication of data by Scott Reuben, then a professor at Tufts, which led to the retraction of 10 papers from A&A. In the same issue, an article by Professor Joachim Boldt was retracted for data fabrication and sparked an investigation that ultimately led to 94 retractions for the same author.4 –6 In the words of Dr. Shafer, editor-in-chief of A&A, “Ladies and gentle-men, we have an apparent retraction record holder …”5We should be so lucky. As of March 15, 2016, the record of 183 retractions belongs to Dr. Yoshitaka Fujii, who was an associate professor of anesthesiology at Toho University prior to his dismissal in 2012.7,8
At present, the “ASA Guidelines for the Ethical Practice of Anesthesiology” has this to say about publication ethics: “An anesthesiologist shall not engage in misconduct in research and/or publication.”9 The Committee on Ethics supports this statement, and we further believe that all ASA members should adhere, at a minimum, to the standards of our own publication, Anesthesiology, even when publishing in other journals. The standards of Anesthesiology may be found at anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/public/InstructionsforAuthors.aspx.10 At that site, one can find detailed guidelines on publication ethics as well as links to additional resources.
Taken as a whole, the standards of Anesthesiology and associated guidelines prohibit both obvious and subtle forms of misconduct. Obvious forms include those that meet the HHS Definition of Research Misconduct: “Fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.”11 They also include failure to obtain approval by the appropriate IRB or to abide by IRB standards for human subjects or to abide by the guidelines of the National Academy of Sciences for the care of research animals.10 Suffice it to say that the Committee on Ethics believes that we as ASA members should be scrupulous in avoiding these forms of obvious misconduct.
Less obvious forms deserve special mention. Accordingly, the Committee on Ethics will take this opportunity to state our consensus that, as ASA members, we should never participate in “ghostwriting” (writing a paper for someone else’s signature) or “guest authoring” (claiming authorship of a paper written by someone else), or make agreements that limit the author’s right to interpret or publish data as they see fit. Although some of these activities may seem superficially acceptable (e.g., Why shouldn’t I sell my writings if I wish? Why shouldn’t I be an author on an article that I’ve reviewed and support?), these activities bias the body of research in a manner that may harm patients. First, accepting payment (money, easy publications, etc.) raises the risk that the ghostwriter and guest author may consciously or unconsciously bias the data in favor of the company from which they derive benefit. Secondly, the ghostwriter/guest author relationships inherently bias the publication weight of the paper by creating the impression that it is the work of a well-respected expert, when it may be the work of someone less capable or just less well-known. Finally, permitting a study sponsor to control interpretation or publication of the data inherently taints the science.
We encourage ASA members to publish when they have something to contribute to the body of medical knowledge. But it is better not to publish at all than to publish bad science.
Hvistendahl M . China’s publication bazaar. Science. 2013;342(6162):1035–1039.
Gaidos S. Ghostwriters in medical literature. Science Magazine website.http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2010/11/ghostwriters-medical-literature. Published November 12, 2010. Accessed May 23, 2016.
Beall J . Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature.2012;489(7415):179.
Shafer SL . Shadow of doubt. Anesth Analg. 2011;112(3):498–500.
Neema PK . Medical research: is everything all right? J Anaesthesiol Clin Pharmacol. 2011;27(2):159–161.
Oransky I. Retraction watch leaderboard. Retraction Watch website.http://retractionwatch.com/the-retraction-watch-leaderboard/. Published June 16, 2015. Accessed March 15, 2016.
Marcus A. Retraction record broken, again: University report should up Fujii total to 183. Retraction Watch. Retraction Watch website.http://retractionwatch.com/2013/01/15/retraction-record-broken-again-university-report-should-up-fujii-total-to-183/#more-11761. Published January 15, 2013. Accessed March 15, 2016.
Yoshitaka Fujii. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshitaka_Fujii. Updated February 26, 2016. Accessed March 15, 2016.
ASA Committee on Ethics. Guidelines for the ethical practice of anesthesiology [page 4]. American Society of Anesthesiologists website.https://www.asahq.org/quality-and-practice-management/standards-and-guidelines. Reaffirmed October 16, 2013. Accessed May 23, 2016.
Instructions for authors. Anesthesiology: The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc. website.http://anesthesiology.pubs.asahq.org/public/InstructionsforAuthors.aspx. Accessed March 29. 2016.
Definition of research misconduct. ORI: The Office of Research Integrity website. http://ori.hhs.gov/definition-misconduct. Updated April 25, 2011. Accessed March 29, 2016.