#MedBikini paper will be retracted

This week, a scientific paper published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery resulted in a heated discussion on Twitter, with the hashtag “#MedBikini” trending among medical professionals on Twitter.

In the paper, “Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons“, Hardouin et al., DOI: 10.1016/j.jvs.2019.10.069, three male authors screened young students’ social media posts for “unprofessional” behavior.

After creating an outcry on Twitter, the journal announced that the paper will be retracted.

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The “Effect” Paper Mill

While working on the larger “Tadpole” and “Stock Photo” paper set, plenty of other papers with similar title and layout structure were found that appeared to belong to different sets.

In this post, I will present to you the “Effect” paper set, uncovered by super-spotter Hoya Camphorifolia (a pseudonym).

I called this set the “Effect” set because about half of the papers’ titles start with “Effect of” or “Effects of”.

As with other paper sets suspected of being produced by a paper mill, this group of papers are all authored by different research groups at different hospitals, studying different animal models and therapeutics. Yet, they all share at least one image with each other.

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Worst paper of 2020? 5G and Coronavirus induction

This paper made my jaw drop:

5G Technology and induction of coronavirus in skin cells – M Fioranelli et al. – J Biol Regul Homeost Agents 2020 Jul 16;34(4). doi: 10.23812/20-269-E-4 [archivedPDF]

The paper suggests that 5G waves (the latest cell phone technology) can spontaneously generate Coronaviruses in skin cells. Yet, there is nothing in this article that proves this extraordinary claim. It is absolute nonsense.

Combining two hot topics into one title, this article is surely asking for some attention. Attention it will get. Because it is one of the worst scientific papers I have seen this year.

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Helping students get into top universities by writing their papers, essays, and recommendations

A small thread on Twitter (now deleted) pointed me to the website YMGrad.com, “Your Gateway to Study Abroad“. The site promises to help students be admitted to graduate schools at top universities worldwide.

One of the services offered on the site is paid authorship on a paper – without the students needing to do any research.

That sounds a lot like a paper mill to me.

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University of Illinois wins second “This Image Is Fine” Award for Melba Toast paper

Remember the Melba Toast image? It was part of a 2005 paper by Surgisphere founder Sapan Desai, published as part of his PhD research at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The photos in this paper contain many unexpected repetitive features, both within as well as between the panels. This appeared to be a severe case of photographic editing. So I reported this paper to the journal and the university.

Unfortunately, the University of Illinois just let me know that they will not investigate this case – because it is too old.

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The Stock Photo Paper Mill

A typical stock photo. License: CC0 Public Domain. Source: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=53739&picture=people

“Are you looking to buy your own custom-made scientific paper? You have come to the right place. We are the Stock Photo Paper Mill! You can pick and choose all kinds of great items from our pool of stock photos to create your own paper. We have photos featuring colony formation, wound healing, and transwell assays. We have survival plots and flow cytometry panels too! Just pick what you like from our catalog, and we will turn your selection into your own, unique paper. “

A hypothetical commercial for a paper mill.

Stock photos are photos that you can pick and buy from a catalog. Some sites even offer free stock photos. Stock photos are often used by new sites and bloggers to illustrate their stories. Some photos can even be funny, especially if they depict models pretending to be professionals. On MicrobiomeDigest.com I have several blog posts about laboratory stock photo fails that might make you smile.

Here I will discuss the Stock Photo Papers, a set of 121 papers, almost exclusively published in the same scientific journal. The papers all have different authors from different institutions, and describe different cancer types and tissue samples.

However, although each of these papers looks unique at first glance, all papers in this set contain images from the same library of about 100 photos and plots. Like images in a stock photo library, each of these photos was used multiple times in different papers. My findings, covered by Eva Xiao in the Wall Street Journal, suggest that they were all created by the same paper mill.

TLDR: Links to the list of 121 papers: [English] Google SheetPDFExcel format

Update 7/7/2020: Links added to list of papers in Chinese – with big thanks to TigerBB8 for the translation and for adding the grants: [Chinese] PDF

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The Golden Arches paper set

Today I found four papers that appear to share colony formation and tumor photos with each other. Because they do not share authors or institutions, and because they all investigated a different type of cancer, it is hard to imagine how these four ended up with the same photos. The authors might have all used the same outsourcing laboratory or paper mill.

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SARS-CoV-2 in Barcelona sewers

A parody (modified image; yes, I occasionally photoshop as well!) I made based on the cover of Stephen King’s novel “It”, about a monster lurking in New England sewers. Not meant as copyright infringement. You can buy the book here.

A quick post based on a Twitter thread I did this afternoon.

Several people asked me to say something about a rather fantastical finding, that SARS-CoV-2 might already have been lurking in Barcelona sewers in March 2019, a year before the first COVID-19 case was reported in Spain.

It was reported by a group from University of Barcelona and posted as a non-peer reviewed preprint on MedRxiv on June 13.

With fantastic claims should come fantastic data. That is not the case here.

Let’s dive into the Barcelona sewers to find out the details.

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The Surgisphere Founder and the Melba Toast figure

Surgisphere is a company that specializes in the analysis of clinical data. It provided the large datasets on COVID-19 patients that formed the basis of two papers recently published in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, both of which were retracted on June 4th. Suspicions had been raised about the validity of the data, provided by Surgisphere founder Sapan S. Desai (archived ResearchGate page) who was an author on both papers.

But that might not be the only concern about Desai’s work. Here I will discuss a paper from his PhD project at the University of Illinois at Chicago that appears to have some serious image problems.

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The Octopaper

A follower on Twitter asked me to look at two identical papers. I agreed that they looked very similar, did some searches, and found six more. All eight papers presented the same survival curves, table values, and similar line graphs. But they were published in different journals by different authors, at different institutes, on different patients, and different cancers.

In this blog post, I present to you the Mysterious Case of the Octopaper.

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