Some new developments on the COVID-19 TCM paper that I wrote about yesterday. The patient case and their CT scan image appear to have been copied from another paper by another group.
The paper by Ren et al. describes a patient who was suspected to have COVID-19, and who got remarkably better after receiving a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concoction called qingfei paidu decoction (QPD). As I wrote in yesterday’s post as well as on PubPeer, there were several red flags with this paper. In particular, the lung CT scan image of the patient appeared to have a green watermark, as if it had been taken from another journal’s website.
As it turns out, that appears to indeed be the case. Ren et al. list a reference  in their paper which I could not access from the US. Reference  was listed as:
. H.L. Zhang, Y.X. Zhu, One highly suspected case of novel coronavirus pneumonia treated by Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western medicine and nucleic acid analysis, Tianjin Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. http://kns.cnki.net/kcms/detail/12.1349.R.20200227.0909.004.html
But other science detectives and PubPeer commenters Parashorea Tomentella and Oeneis Buddha were able to download the Reference  paper. And it appears that reference  describes the exact same patient, with the exact same CT scan. But it was published by a different group of authors, from a different institute!
Here is Oeneis Buddha’s comparison of the CT scans from both papers.
So from what it appears now, the Ren et al. paper, submitted on March 1, 2020, is not original work, but a copy from the Zhang & Zhu paper, which appeared online on February 28, 2020.
In addition, as Parashorea Tomentella and Oeneis Buddha describe on PubPeer, the COVID-19 patient in Zhang & Zhu was actually treated with different TCM mixtures than in the Ren et al. version. That would mean that the Ren et al. paper potentially distributes the wrong information on how to treat COVID-19 patients.
Breaking several scientific integrity rules
This paper appears to break a couple of scientific integrity rules. The journal should have checked this manuscript against their own Guide For Authors guidelines as provided on the journal’s website.
- It is not original work. Although it appears to describe original findings (a patient and their CT scans), it actually took the data from a paper published by someone one else without specifically mentioning this or permission by the original authors
- Although it describes an experimental treatment of a human subject, it has no statements about e.g. IRB approval or informed consent. The editors completely dropped the ball here.
I really hope Elsevier will do the right thing and put an immediate Expression of Concern on this paper. I will keep you posted!