This week I worked on a large set of papers from a research group at the Tianjin Life Science Research Center at Tianjin Medical University. The group, headed by Dr. Hua Tang and funded by many National Natural Science Foundation of China grants, has published a total of 113 PubMed-indexed papers.
However, a significant number of these — 45 as of today — have PubPeer posts in which concerns are raised about their figures.
A 2007 paper published in Science — in which I found image irregularities back in 2015 — has finally been retracted. For five long years, the journal took no action. But after I tweeted about the case, it eventually acted.
When it comes to image integrity, all papers are equal. But some papers appear more equal than others. A 2017 paper published in Elsevier’s journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine that included an image with lots of repetitive elements was not retracted, but instead received only a very mild correction for “an inadvertent mistake for Figure 3,B” (sic). One of the senior authors also happens to be an Associate Editor of the journal, raising questions about whether the investigation could have been carried out in an objective way.
After an anonymous tip about some papers by the Şen Research Group with possible duplicated graphs, I started digging around a bit more. And I found a couple more papers with duplications. And more. Quite a lot more. As of now, the SRG has 84 papers flagged on PubPeer. [Excel spreadsheet; PDF version]
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.