Update on the COVID-19 TCM paper

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 [7] in their paper which I could not access from the US. Reference [7] was listed as:

[7]. 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 [7] paper. And it appears that reference [7] 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.

  1. 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
  2. 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!

13 thoughts on “Update on the COVID-19 TCM paper”

  1. Thanks for your posts and research.

    A question for you or anyone reading thise. You wrote,

    “… was actually treated with different TCM mixtures than in the Ren et al. version.”

    Any idea what are the exact similarities in two ingredient lists? Or what are the exact differences? The language barrier isn’t helping, either.

    Very Respectfully,


  2. I am writing this again since I don’t see my comment. Basically I was curious if anyone knows what the differences are in the two ingredient lists of the two treatments that were used.


    1. I am sorry I did not approved your comments earlier. It is just me doing this manually, and I do have other things to work on, so I cannot be attending this blog 24h a day. I did approve it within 6h, though, so I do my best.


  3. Another comment: You seem to have missed some of the more glaring issues. For example, the paper says, “The effective cure rate of QPD against COVID-19 is over 90 %.” This implies that 10% of COVID-19 patients died. This is probably worse than the death rates of untreated people.


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