Psychiatrist Alleges Plagiarism by Journal Editor

Alicia Ault

February 05, 2021

A psychiatrist known for her expertise in gun violence prevention is alleging that the editor of a medical journal plagiarized her work and published it under his name after she withdrew her paper from the journal.

Amy Barnhorst, MD, vice chair for community mental health at the University of California, Davis, is still waiting for the Journal of Health Service Psychology, published by Springer, to take action on what she says is blatant copying of an article she and colleague Rocco Pallin, MPH, wrote in response to an invitation from the managing editor, Gary VandenBos, PhD.

Out of frustration and sheer disbelief, Barnhorst, who is also director of the BulletPoints Project, said she took to Twitter to share her experience.

"I reached a new academic milestone last week when I read a published journal article about firearm suicide and realized it was my and my colleague's writing! Except that the authors on the paper were these two other guys we don't know," Barnhorst tweeted. Barnhorst did not name the journal or its editor.

"I wasn't mad so much as befuddled," she told Medscape Medical News. She also wondered if other people had experienced anything similar.

The tweet thread was retweeted 7800 times and liked by almost 40,000 people.

"I got so many messages and emails and comments from people saying, 'This [also] happened to me,' " Barnhorst said.

In documents shared with Medscape Medical News, it appears that large portions of the VandenBos paper were either copied verbatim or only slightly altered from Barnhorst's original draft.

The published paper also listed a coauthor, Michael O. Miller, a retired judge who trained as a psychologist, and who has largely written about juvenile delinquency.

Barnhorst said she became aware of the VandenBos paper when he notified her that it had been posted to the journal's website. According to Barnhorst, he said, "Thought you two might be interested to see what we came up with." When she viewed the article in full, she said she was speechless.

"It was really stunning," said Barnhorst, noting that the bibliography, structure, vignette, and other elements were either similar or the same.

As soon as she saw the abstract, she said she became suspicious. Even the case vignette was extremely similar.

In the VandenBos paper, the case was Scott, a white 52-year-old divorced veteran struggling over the relatively recent death of his ex-wife. Barnhorst and Pallin's vignette was about Robert, a white 55-year-old widower and veteran. In both papers, the patient had problems with alcohol.

Initially, she said, she and Pallin "were trying to rationalize it or justify it or make excuses for him because it just seemed so out there." However, the women soon concluded that they were plagiarized.

Barnhorst said she emailed the journal's editor-in-chief, Morgan Sammons, PhD, who is also the CEO of the National Register of Health Service Psychologists.

Initially, she said, Sammons offered her and her colleague coauthorship on the paper, which she rejected. In a subsequent phone call, Sammons said he would investigate.

Publisher Investigating

According to Barnhorst, Sammons later said he would retract the paper, but only after suggesting that she not go to "external parties" with her concerns. It was at that point, said Barnhorst, that she emailed Springer.

"My colleague and I believe the evidence of plagiarism is plain and anticipate that you will so conclude," she wrote in her email to the publishing company.

"We are requesting that Springer take prompt remedial action in accordance with prevailing industry standards and your Policy on Publishing Integrity."

Barnhorst also told the company she and Pallin could not submit their original paper for publication elsewhere until Springer made a determination on the plagiarism allegation.

A Springer spokesperson told Medscape Medical News that the company is "extremely concerned" and "committed to fully investigating the concerns raised in line with COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) guidelines, as a matter of urgency."

 

On February 1, Springer added an editor's note to the paper, which has not been taken down or officially retracted. The note said: "Concerns have been raised with this article and are being investigated. Further editorial action will be taken as appropriate once the investigation into the concerns is complete and all parties have been given an opportunity to respond in full."

The Springer spokesperson said the company was investigating and would "take further action as appropriate once our investigation is complete."

Neither Sammons nor VandenBos responded to requests for comment.

Barnhorst has consulted her university's general counsel but has not taken any legal action and is not currently exploring any, she told Medscape Medical News. "It's not a tough question whether or not this was plagiarism. We just want this article pulled down and retracted," she said.

For more Medscape Psychiatry news, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Comments

3090D553-9492-4563-8681-AD288FA52ACE
Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.
Post as:

processing....