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Unethical behaviour by any of the actors involved in the edition of a scientific paper can lead to a miscalculation of evidence synthesis indicators. More specifically, duplicate publication may lead to the incorporation of false evidence in meta-analyses, which will adversely affect the assessment of the efficacy and safety of interventions.1 On the other hand, redundant evidence can affect the validity of practice recommendations by professional associations, which usually underpin clinical practice. Systematic reviews create an excellent opportunity to identify and denounce scientific fraud, as they involve a thorough literature search.2
Our research group has wide experience in the performance of systematic reviews in the field of hypertension and has witnessed a striking case of redundant publication. We thought it would be interesting to analyse this case in detail to start a debate on how the world of scientific publications work, how scientists and scholars are credited and the role that readers play when fraud is detected.
Two clinical trials, eight papers, a suspicion
In March 2015, our research group conducted a literature search on several databases with the purpose of performing a Cochrane systematic review.3 A total of eight papers signed by the same principal investigator were found to meet our inclusion criteria. Our group contacted the author to gather some further information on his studies, confirm their suitability for our systematic review and determine the relationship between them. In the light of the weak explanations provided by the author and the strong similarities observed among the different studies, we contacted the editors in chief of the journals involved to inform them on our suspicion of redundancy.
The editors took between 2 and 9 months to provide an answer, which can be considered a reasonable time. Finally, the editors decided to maintain the papers with the earliest copyright related to the two different trials …
Contributors The authors are experienced editors focused on drug assessment and independent pharmacotherapy research. They work for the Spanish public administration and, among other research projects, currently take part of a satellite team linked to the Cochrane Hypertension Group. The article’s provenance is directly related to these activities as Cochrane authors. Among the sources of information used to prepare this analysis, it should be stressed that most of information came from Cochrane review documents, published articles available in PubMed, email exchanges with authors, editors and publishers, and COPE/ICMJE statements. LCS conceived the paper and performed the articles searching. All authors contributed to the review of articles and to the interpretation of results. LCS is the guarantor of the article.
Competing interests None declared.
Patient consent Not required.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.