Things are not getting easier for Prof. Paolo Macchiarini, surgeon and researcher at Karolinska Institute (Sweden) and Careggi Hospital (Italy), after the charge of fraud and attempted extortion that led to his arrest last months in Florence.
The article in question, titled “Development and Validation of a New Outcome Score in Subglottic Stenosis” was published this October, and the retraction came as a request from the Editor-in-Chief of the journal, L. Henry Edmunds (University of Pennsylvania). According to the Editorial note, the article failed to cite the source of a reproduced table. The original work from which it was taken belongs to Nouraei SAR et. al. “A proposed system for documenting the functional outcome of adult laryngotracheal stenosis” (Clinical Otolaryngology 2007;32:407–409)
As Retraction Watch observes, the decision came as a “straightforward handling of the case”. Surprisingly straightforward. Particularly if we acknowledge that the very same journal, years ago, when asked why an article was retracted, closed the debate with the quote: “none of your damn business”.
Thumb up for your retrieved sense of Science, Henry Edmunds!
Let’s look at the case closer. At the citation index of the damaged article (from which the table was “copied”), you can see that Macchiarini refers to that work already two times, from two different publications, in 2011. Why, all in a sudden, would the surgeon omit to cite a table form that work?
- A) The citation was genuinely missed, problem for which (I envision, but I’m not sure) there are other solutions than article retraction;
- B) The citation was intentionally hidden to make the data looks like their own. (Plausible? Not much for a scientist with an H-index over 30, with no not much need of publications);
The question remains: why journal retractions are so sharp when it comes to well-known public figures?
A feasible version of the story follows: as soon as ATS realized the “misconduct”, and matched it with the recent story of Macchiarini, took the short cut and retracted the work.
Once again, the public opinion may have play a silent role in this case, twisting a (possibly) minor publication problem in a quick sentence-to-death. I wonder whether the author of the offending article have been questioned about the episode, and if there has been a proper investigation behind it, rather than an easy-to-do wash of hands.
Will this story be cherry-picked from the Italian media and used to enhance the public disgust for the “naughty surgeon”? Matter of time.