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A PET Paper, Retraction, And Lawsuit Threat

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A retraction of a European Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging article about PET imaging got a mention Wednesday in the Retraction Watch blog. The blog’s digging into the situation led to a threat of a lawsuit by one of the retracted article’s authors.

Medical reporters Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky launched Retraction Watch in August 2010 to track retractions of papers that appear in science journals. On Wednesday, they published a post about the retraction of “Neuroradiological advances detect abnormal neuroanatomy underlying neuropsychological impairments: the power of PET imaging.” The article’s authors were Benjamin Jacob Hayempour, now a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley/University of California, San Francisco, and Abass Alavi, MD, professor of radiology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The article was published in September, and the retraction note was published online November 9.

The retraction was made “owing to the unexplained close similarity of some passages to parts of a previous publication.” Dr. Alavi, in a letter to the editor published online November 27, said he agreed with the decision to retract the article. He defended the substance of the paper, but added this:

However, I was not aware that passages from another paper had been included without proper citation, nor did I have any reason to suspect that this had happened.

Retraction Watch said both Dr. Alavi and Susan E. Rushing, MD, JD, a co-author of the earlier paper, “said they believed the plagiarism was merely a lack of understanding about proper citation practice, not malicious intent.”

Retraction Watch quoted Hayempour as saying he was an “undergraduate lab rat” for Dr. Alavi and just typed the manuscript using text provided by others. “But when we tried to probe further,” Retraction Watch said, “he threatened to sue us.” An e-mailed letter followed from a Los Angeles real estate lawyer who said his firm represented Hayempour. The letter threatened legal action if Retraction Watch published a defamatory story—or even tried to contact Hayempour or his colleagues.

Retraction Watch didn’t seem too worried. Its response: “We have had other legal threats.” Hayempour later said Retraction Watch misquoted him, a claim that Retraction Watch denied.

Among the online comments about the post was one that listed five passages in other scientific papers co-authored by Hayempour that appeared similar to passages in other works.

As another commenter said, “Great example of the Streisand effect.”

UPDATE: Hayempour contacted Radiology Daily to say that he “vehemently” denies that he said what Retraction Watch claims he said. Concerning the online comment about the five passages in other scientific papers, Hayempour said the first paper incorrectly listed him as co-author. The journal (which also lists him as a member of its editorial board) has removed that paper from its online archives. Regarding the other four papers, Hayempour said the passages in question were “not copied but paraphrased” and that citations were correctly done according to the “high standards” of the journals’ editorial boards.

In addition: In the fifth paragraph above, we have changed the word “plagiarized” to “earlier” to clarify the authorship of the papers in question. And we have reworded the beginning of the sixth paragraph to clarify the attribution of the disputed quotes.

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