The Spandidos Ménage à Trois

Two authors and a publisher found each other – and happily copy/pasted text from PhD theses written by others to pass it off as new review papers. Not once, not twice, but at least nine times.

Authors Xiao-Ying Zhang from the Information Technology Institute in Nanjing and Pei-Ying Zhang from Xuzhou Central Hospital in Xuzhou not only share their last name but also a successful publishing model. Together, they published at least nine review papers that all appear to contain plagiarized text.

For each of these papers, they appear to have taken large chunks of text from PhD theses written by students at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm or the National University of Singapore. These theses, all available online, were published in 2013-2015, at least a year before Zhang and Zhang ‘re-published’ them in 2016.

All nine papers in this set were published in Spandidos journals.

Here are the nine papers from this set:

  1. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Genetics and epigenetics of melanoma – Oncol Lett. 2016 Nov;12(5):3041-3044 – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5093 – [PubPeer]
  2. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Recent perspectives of epithelial ovarian carcinoma – Oncol Lett. 2016 Nov; 12(5): 3055–3058. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5107 – [PubPeer]
  3. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Receptor tyrosine kinases in carcinogenesis – Oncol Lett. 2016 Nov; 12(5): 3679–3682. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5200 – [PubPeer]
  4. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Scorpion venoms in gastric cancer – Oncol Lett. 2016 Nov;12(5):3683-3686 – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5134 – [PubPeer]
  5. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Combinations in multimodality treatments and clinical outcomes during cancer – Oncol Lett. 2016 Dec; 12(6): 4301–4304. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5242 – [PubPeer]
  6. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Stem cell transplantation during cancer – Oncol Lett. 2016 Dec; 12(6): 4297–4300. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5260 – [PubPeer]
  7. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Nanotechnology for multimodality treatment of cancer – Oncol Lett. 2016 Dec; 12(6): 4883–4886. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5322 – [PubPeer]
  8. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Mitochondria targeting nano agents in cancer therapeutics – Oncol Lett. 2016 Dec; 12(6): 4887–4890. – DOI: 10.3892/ol.2016.5302 – [PubPeer]
  9. Xiao-Ying Zhang and Pei-Ying Zhang – Hospital information technology in home care – Exp Ther Med. 2016 Oct; 12(4): 2408–2410. – DOI: 10.3892/etm.2016.3664 – [PubPeer]

Of note, papers #5 and #7 both used text from the same PhD thesis, but from different sections. Why use a good thesis only once if you can use it twice?

Textual similarities

The textual similarities of these nine papers with their corresponding original PhD theses are high.

As an example, here is the text from paper #2, “Recent perspectives of epithelial ovarian carcinoma” which I compared to the text of a 2014 PhD thesis “Identification of Functional targets in Epithelial Ovarian Cancer” available at Core, an Open Access repository for papers and theses.

I did this comparison using SimTexter, developed in the lab of Prof. Dr. Deborah Weber-Wulff at the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft in Berlin. I wrote about how to use this free tool in a previous post.

Text highlighted with a particular color is identical to that of the PhD thesis, and the color switches after each “break” in the similarity. Most of these gaps are caused by the references – which are in a different format – but you can easily see that almost all text in this review paper is a very good match to that of the PhD thesis.

Here is another example, from paper #4, “Scorpion venoms in gastric cancer“, which is remarkably similar to a 2014 PhD thesis called “Screening and Evaluation of the Anticancer Potential of Scorpion Venoms and Snake Venom L-Amino Acid Oxidase in Gastric Cancer“.

Spandidos journals

All nine papers in this set are published in Spandidos journals. Eight were published in Oncology Letters, and one in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine.

Spandidos journals are indexed in PubMed, which gives them a level of trustworthiness that I am not sure about. In my screen of 20,000 papers for image duplication, the Spandidos journal International Journal of Oncology has the highest score of all 40 journals, with 12.4% of their papers containing inappropriately duplicated images.

Figure 6 from https://mbio.asm.org/content/7/3/e00809-16 showing that a Spandidos journal had the highest percentage of papers with duplicated images in a set of 40 journals.

In additional searches in three other journals from this publisher, I found similarly high percentages of duplicated images: 14% among 680 papers published in Oncology Letters, Oncology Reports, and Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine (unpublished).

Editorial Policies

Spandidos’s Editorial Policies sound very robust and strict: “Upon submission, all manuscripts are rigorously evaluated to identify any previously published material. Spandidos Publications utilizes a combination of iThenticate, and searching on titles in PubMed and Google, to screen submitted manuscripts against published studies and other relevant sources.

Yet, all nine papers in this set flew under the radar. Looking at the marked text shown above, these papers contain very high percentages of textual similarities. The journal should not have missed all nine of these in their “rigorous evaluation”. I could easily find the copied text using Google Scholar.

One could also wonder why a publisher, upon receiving 9 review manuscripts all by the same duo of authors within weeks from each other, would not pay a bit more attention. Writing a good review takes more than week!

As usual, I will report these papers to the journals. Let’s hope that Spandidos will practice what they preach. And let’s hope that NCBI PubMed will reconsider indexing their journals.

One thought on “The Spandidos Ménage à Trois”

  1. Usually, when the thesis is submitted to the university(national university of singapore, the candidate/supervisor limits the access to the public for a year or so – this is to allow them to publish their papers. The second thesis on Venom was actually submitted in March 2015 (though the first page says 2014). If there is an embargo for one year, it was not accessible to anyone outside the National University of Singapore for one year – unless the supervisor or the student forgot to use this option! This is for your information! The software would have picked the text from the paper published in 2014 by the same student (PhD thesis) Experimental Biology and Medicine 2014; 239: 387–393. DOI: 10.1177/1535370213513991.

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