Leading European Cardiologist Accused Of Plagiarism

Posted: Feb 10 2014, 9:22am CST | by , Updated: Feb 10 2014, 9:26am CST, in News | Misc


Leading European Cardiologist Accused Of Plagiarism
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Thomas Lüscher, the editor of the European Heart Journal and one of the most prominent cardiologists in Europe, has been accused of plagiarism. An irony in the case is that  Lüscher has taken a strong public position against scientific misconduct of all sorts, including plagiarism.

The current accusation (which has been widely reported in Switzerland) involves Lüscher’s authorship of a chapter in a German language  textbook, Siegenthaler’s Differenzialdiagnose [Siegenthaler's Differential Diagnosis]. The textbook, now in its 20th edition, has been translated into a dozen languages and is often referred to as the bible of internal medicine in Europe. A Swiss cardiologist, Christoph Scharf, had been the author of 2 chapters, on vertigo and syncope and on cardiac arrhythmias, in the book’s 19th edition but was replaced by Lüscher in the 20th edition, which appeared in 2012.

The publisher asked Scharf to transfer his rights to his chapters but Scharf refused since Lüscher was unwilling to list him as a co-author. The publisher then informed Scharf that Lüscher had said that he would completely rewrite the chapters. One chapter, the cardiac arrhythmia chapter, which lists Lüscher and a junior colleague as a co-author, was completely rewritten. But the chapter on vertigo and syncope, for which Lüscher was responsible for all of the the cardiology portions (two neurologists covered the non-cardiac content of the chapter) is nearly identical to the earlier version by Scharf, containing only two small changes in wording and the deletion of one table. Everything else in the section is exactly the same. Scharf is not listed as an author, though his name appears in an acknowledgement.

In its first response to the problem the University of Zurich, where Lüscher works, suggested that Scharf and Lüscher sit down to discuss the problem. Scharf, however, insisted on a full investigation. The result of the university investigation, which is being led by a retired professor, is expected in the next few weeks.

In its initial response to the blowup the publisher, Thieme, removed the book from the market for a period of time last year, from the end of August until mid October. Sales resumed when Scharf told the publisher that he thought that the dispute was not a good reason to punish medical students who needed the book.

Responding to a request, Lüscher sent the following comment:

As I am only the third author and involved in less than 10% of the entire chapter and have listed the authors of the previous version by name, the dispute is really minor as also determined by a committee of our university. In the meantime, we have reached a consensus among the 5 current and previous authors that a completely rewritten version with all authors involved will be printed in further printing and Editions issue of this textbook.

Note and Comment: 

I don’t believe that Lüscher has provided an adequate response to the plagiarism charge. It is not “really minor.” If a student did this it would be grounds for serious punishment. There is a very big difference between an acknowledgement and authorship. The fact is that Scharf’s words were used without permission and he is not listed as an author. Lüscher, by contrast, is listed as an author of the chapter but did not write or have any involvement with the cardiology portion of the published chapter. Further, I am informed that Lüscher is not correct in his statement that the  ”5 current and previous authors” have reached an agreement about the future of the chapter. In addition, the university investigation has not stated that “the dispute is really minor.” This is an ongoing controversy,  far from resolved.

Some of my readers may have noticed that Lüscher was also the subject of my previous blog post, in which I defended an earlier  post of mine from criticism by Lüscher and other EHJ editors. A major part of that story was the “disappearance” of a controversial EHJ article by two relatively junior authors. I was struck by the spectacle of senior figures like Lüscher removing an article with which they disagreed and replacing it with an editorial presenting their own “correct” position.

I am further struck by a similar theme in these two episodes. In both cases the role of junior, less powerful authors has been suppressed in favor of powerful senior figures. Both episodes illustrate the potential dangers and abuses of power.

There is an even larger theme connecting these 2 episodes, as well as many of the cases of scientific misconduct and plagiarism that have occurred in recent years. In a scientific culture that values quantity over quality charges of plagiarism should be neither surprising nor unbelievable. The obsessive drive to publish, to garner as many references and citations as possible, is extremely unhealthy. Quantity has become the enemy of quality and individual responsibility. I am always amazed when scientists and authors boast (or have others boast for them) about their CVs containing hundreds of publications. In my opinion this should be considered a badge of shame. The author is, essentially, admitting that he or she is willing to take credit for work for which he or she has had no involvement.

Here’s what one leading editor wrote about the related problem of  ”guest” authorship:

This raises the question: who is an author? As we saw, guest authorships, particularly those of great stature, can be abused to provide credibility to questionable data. Thus, whenever we accept an authorship, we must be aware of the responsibility associated with it. At best we should be able to defend the entire study, if required, or at least that part to which we contributed, e.g. statistical analysis, specific assays, etc. At the very least, we should have proofread the last version of the manuscript—anything else is inappropriate.

The author of the passage: Lüscher himself. For the past 20 years Lüscher has been the author or co-author of between 30 and 90 articles each year. I agree with the general sentiment in the first part of the quote, though I wonder whether most people will agree that proofreading by itself should be a sufficient requirement for authorship.

Click here for my previous post: This Blog Is ‘Not Suitable For Dissemination Through The Internet’

Source: Forbes

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