Troubles with VSELs

A stem cell research group at the University of Louisville, Kentucky — famous for apparently discovering an exciting new class of stem cells — could be facing new troubles.

Although the work of Mariusz Ratajczak was supported through large NIH and Vatican grants, no other lab could replicate his findings on very small embryonic-like stem cells (VSELs).

And now, 28 papers from the Ratajczak lab are listed on PubPeer for image duplication and textual similarity concerns.

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46 papers from a Royan Institute professor

The Royan Institute in Tehran, Iran was initially founded in 1991 as a research institute for infertility treatments. It now consists of three research institutes, one of which is the Royan Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Technology (RI-SCBT), which was founded in 2002 by Hossein Baharvand, its director.

Professor Hossein Baharvand has received many national and international awards, including three Razi research awards, the 2014 UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in Life Sciences, a 2019 TWAS Prize, and the 2019 Mustafa Prize. He has an H-index of 57, with nearly 400 papers on PubMed. And, as of today, 46 of those papers have PubPeer comments because of image concerns or undisclosed conflicts of interest.

TL:DR: Excel spreadsheet – PDF version

Hossein Baharvand accepting the 2019 Mustafa Prize. Photo by Sarah Abdollahi. Taken from Borna.news.
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Conflict of Skinterest

In my post on August 4 2020 I wrote about the mysterious Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents (JBRHA) that published the bizarre paper on 5G and Coronavirus (now withdrawn). Most papers in this journal are not accessible and the Editorial Board consists mostly of deceased people.

Browsing further back into the journal’s archive I found an interesting supplemental issue from 2016 that consists of 20 papers on psoriasis – all written by the same group of prolific authors.

The papers are not without problems. Lack of IRB approval, lack of patient consent to have their photos published, unclear patient recruitment and trial locations, inclusion of children in experimental drug testing, and to top it off, incorrect statements about conflict of interest. All papers heavily promote the same product line of herbal ointments and gels – and the founder of the company is one of the authors!

This is a huge conflict of interest.

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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.

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Big trouble in a nanoparticles lab

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. [Google Sheet link]

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The “48” mini-mill

A short post highlighting a small set of papers (currently five) that all share some interesting features. As before, these might all have been produced by the same paper-writing entity, a so-called “paper mill”.

Similar to the Tadpole paper set, where all Western blot panels showed the same background noise, most wound healing assay photos in this mini-mill share the same microscope irregularities. And all of them describe a group of 48 patients.

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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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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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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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