Recycling fraud (also called self-plagiarism, which is of course an oxymoron) may in fact be more common in scientific literature than brazen plagiarism. Given the general ineffectiveness of respective detection software, it may only be recognized on a highly individual basis. Above, I have reported on a recent case when I had repeatedly stumbled across a quotation of my own previous work in a misleading context, which prompted me to have a closer look. In my assessment, 40-50% of both the Introduction and the Discussion was verbatim copied from a five-year old paper in another journal (including almost identical, now partly outdated, references, “in fact signal[ing] a standstill in science”) about a similar topic but employing different microbiological diagnostic tests provided by two independent companies. Just two authors were common on either publication. The last author of the former article was first author in the article under scrutiny. The department chair was also author on both articles. The first author of the former article was not on the recent article’s authors list. It may be assumed that the recent article’s first author copied and pasted from the previous article. But there was more. Identical, or almost verbatim, paragraphs could be found in another three published articles since 2007, authored by the same group led by the department chair.
The current crisis in scientific publication is much based on improper peer review of an increasing number of often mediocre manuscripts submitted to an ever-increasing number of new scientific journals. Facing university libraries’ limited budgets, the global players among publishers have been advocating “open access” publishing for more than a decade. Once a more than welcome initiative for making research results immediately accessible for everybody, it’s now a business model of Wiley, Elsevier and, in particular, Springer for making more money. All have also announced “manuscript transfer” of rejected, in their hardcore journals, manuscripts (“if not too bad”) to newly established open access journals. They even suggest to reuse previous reviews. I have reported about that before.
As I have mentioned in a previous post I had sent a letter to the editor of Journal of Dental Research, Professor W. Giannobile, in which I had asked the authors of a recent article on the periodontal findings of the 2009-2010 NHANES for some clarification regarding the quite confusing definition of attachment loss. There, Eke et al. (2012) wrote in the Material and Methods section,
“All periodontal examinations were conducted in a mobile examination center (MEC) by dental hygienists registered in at least one U.S. state. Gingival recession [= the distance between the free gingival margin (FGM) and the cemento-enamel junction (CEJ)] and pocket depth (PD) (= the distance from FGM to the bottom of the sulcus or periodontal pocket) were measured at 6 sites per tooth (mesio-, mid-, and disto-buccal; mesio-, mid-, and disto-lingual) for all teeth, excluding third molars. For measurements at each site, a periodontal probe (Hu-Friedy PVP 2TM, Chicago, IL, USA) with 2-, 4-, 6-, 8-, 10-, and 12-mm graduations was positioned parallel to the long axis of the tooth at each site. Data were recorded directly into an NHANES oral health data management program that instantly calculated attachment loss (AL) as the difference between probing depth and recession. Bleeding from probing and the presence of dental furcations were not assessed.” (Emphasis added.)
In my letter [pdf] I had pointed to (1) a possible glitch when calculating attachment loss as the difference, rather than the sum, between probing depth and recession; and (2) the fact that in the absence of any recession, periodontal probing depth must not automatically be regarded as attachment loss as the above description of the method suggested. I had provided a most trivial example regarding a 4 mm probing depth without recession which may be associated with either 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 mm attachment loss, but it seems that the NHANES oral health data management program would have “instantly calculated” 4 mm. Then, (3) I had expressed my concern that either observation that attachment loss at certain thresholds was consistently higher than periodontal probing depth at respective thresholds in all age groups of the adult population of the United States, and the rather conspicuous finding that moderate periodontitis occurred at much higher prevalence than mild periodontal disease may in part be due to the apparently amended definition of attachment loss. And finally, as a constructive suggestion, (4) I asked the authors to compare the new 2009-2010 data with those of 1988-1994 by using the previous case definition (solely based on probing depth) by Albandar et al. (1999) in order to be able to “forget what I was told”, namely that prevalence, extent and severity of periodontal disease had in fact not decreased since NHANES III.
About two weeks ago, I had written a letter to Professor William Giannobile, Editor-in-Chief of prestigious Journal of Dental Research, as regards the paper by Eke et al. (2012) in which new data on prevalence, extent and severity of periodontal disease in the adult population of the U.S. are presented. I had written about an apparent redefinition of clinical attachment loss which might have led to an undue exaggeration of the results here on this blog.
Yesterday, Dr. Giannobile confirmed that the letter has been received. Since he explains that he might, after thorough examination “in concert with the authors”, consider an Erratum by the authors rather than publishing the letter and respective authors’ response, I have decided to link to my letter here [pdf].
I will continue to report on the issue as appropriate.
16 December 2012 @ 7:27 am.
Last modified December 16, 2012.