Expressions of Concern Mount for Heart Researchers Over Data Provenance

Retraction Watch Staff

January 25, 2022

A group of heart researchers in China now have four expressions of concern, along with a retraction, for questions about the reliability of their data.

The latest expressions of concern for the team, led by Bu Lang Gao, of Shijiazhuang First Hospital of Hebei Medical University, involves a 2019 paper in Springer Nature's Scientific Reports titled "Asymmetrical middle cerebral artery bifurcations are more vulnerable to aneurysm formation."

Here's the notice for the article, which has been cited 4 times, according to Clarivate Analytics' Web of Science:

The Editors are issuing an Editorial Expression of Concern for this Article because a concern has been raised that the imaging data presented originate from the patient database of a different institution from that described in the article. The authors have provided their raw data; however, the Editors have not been able to verify the provenance of these data with the authors' institution. The Editors therefore advise readers to interpret the data presented with caution. Xue-Jing Zhang, Wei-Li Hao, Dong-Hai Zhang and Bu-Lang Gao disagree with this statement.

The retraction for the group, from World Surgery in November, suggested some provenance issues, too:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief because this article has included both figures and data from patients that were cared for by Dr. Malek at the Cerebrovascular Hemodynamics laboratory in the Department of Neurosurgery, at Tufts Medical Center.
As we understand, Dr. Gao did not have clinical privileges and played no clinical role in the care of Dr. Malek's patients while at Tufts Medical Center.

Provenance was a theme of the other expressions of concern, too.

Dong-Hai Zhang, whose name appears on four of the suspect papers, is affiliated with an outfit called the Henan Balance Medical Corporation Ltd, which appears to be a pharmaceutical distributor in Zhengzhou.

Gao told us that, regarding the five articles, the journal did "not want to protect us":

In those papers, some one quesitoned some of the figures of cerebral angiography. However, we have provided the source figures of cerebral angiogrpahy from our hospital, but the editors still expressed their concerns. This is why some concerns have been expressed by the editors.
For the cerebral angiography figures, because the cerebral artereis are a small area with a similar angle and diameter, a simialr figure or picure of cerebral angiography can be found. This is an issue.
For that retracted article which is also regarding cerebral angiography, althrough we have expressed that the data are from our hospital, the journal sitll extracted it because someone has said that the data belonged to them wihout giving any evidence.
The journal just do not want to protect us just because someone had questioned the data.