A prominent physician-scientist in South Korea may soon be facing his fourth retraction. Last month, Hui-Nam Pak of Yonsei University was found guilty of duplicate publication, a form of academic misconduct, according to a report from the school’s committee on research integrity Retraction Watch has obtained.
Pak, a cardiologist, has had dozens of papers flagged on PubPeer. As we reported in February, journals pulled two of his papers the previous month after a whistleblower pointed out problems with the articles. One was retracted for “a number of issues related to scientific misconduct,” while the other was a duplicate publication. A third paper by Pak was retracted years earlier after mistakenly being published twice by the same journal.
Our February story triggered a flood of comments, many of them malicious. Some likened whistleblowing to “academic vandalism.” Others asserted that “whistleblowers deserve strong legal penalties” and that “immoral whistleblowers” seemed bent on ruining Pak’s “outstanding career.” Many comments were rejected for not adhering to our commenting policies, in particular making unsubstantiated claims.
The September 12 report from Yonsei University (in Korean) explains that an “informant” reported two of Pak’s papers to the school’s Research Ethics Integrity Committee on March 7.
“Impaired mobilization of bone marrow derived CD34 positive mononuclear cells is related to the recurrence of atrial fibrillation after radiofrequency catheter ablation” was published online in 2011 in the International Journal of Cardiology. According to a machine translation of Yonsei’s report, the article overlaps significantly with the paper “Non-ischaemic titrated cardiac injury caused by radiofrequency catheter ablation of atrial fibrillation mobilizes CD34-positive mononuclear cells by non-stromal cell-derived factor-1α mechanism,” published in 2009 in EP Europace.
The latter paper “is listed in the references of paper No. 1,” the report states, “but the research subjects of the two papers are the same, and the research results of the comparative paper are part of the research results of paper No. 1 … so it is a substantially similar work. Nevertheless, the [second paper] was recognized as a separate research achievement … so it was an unfair duplicate publication.”
We emailed the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Cardiology and Elsevier, its publisher, but did not immediately hear back.
The second paper reported to Yonsei University, “eNOS3 Genetic Polymorphism Is Related to Post-Ablation Early Recurrence of Atrial Fibrillation,” was the one retracted in January due to scientific misconduct.
The informant claimed Patrick T. Ellinor, a professor at Harvard Medical School, had been listed as a coauthor of that paper “even though he did not contribute to the research.”
However, the committee found: “According to the explanation of the person under investigation, Professor Patrick T. Ellinor contributed to the research by presenting the research methodology and conducting a review of the research results, so it is difficult to say that the person under investigation committed research misconduct equivalent to unfair author indication.”
Neither Pak nor Ellinor responded to requests for comments.
The informant also alleged Pak might have doctored the data in the article. But those concerns “appear to be about simple errors in the research and scientific validity rather than issues of ethics, so it is difficult to say that the person under investigation committed research misconduct equivalent to forgery and falsification,” the report states.
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