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A New Record for Retractions?

Editors representing 23 journals have publicly asked officials at seven Japanese institutions to investigate the integrity of 193 publications authored by anesthesiologist Yoshitaka Fujii.

As reported yesterday by Retraction Watch, questions were first raised about Fujii's work a decade ago. Tokyo-based Toho University, his most recent employer, dismissed him in February for not following ethical review procedures in producing eight of nine papers investigated by an internal committee. (Fujii agreed to retract those papers, according to a statement on the university's Web site.)

On 8 March, the journal Anaesthesia published an analysis questioning data in 168 of Fujii's papers. Now the group of editors, mostly from journals focusing on anesthesiology, is planning to retract what may be Fujii's entire English language body of work if the institutions with which he was affiliated cannot confirm that the studies took place, that the original research data have been verified, and that the studies had been properly reviewed in advance for ethical considerations. (A link to the Joint Editors-in-Chief Request is on the Anesthesia & Analgesia Web site.)

Given the results of the Toho University investigation, getting those confirmations might be problematic. According to Ken Takamatsu, dean of the university's faculty of medicine, Fujii told Toho's investigating committee that he had discarded the experimental data for all of the studies then being questioned, but he claimed there had been no fabrication. "We have no evidence to say there was fabrication, but we don't think the papers are truthful," Takamatsu told ScienceInsider. Kazutoshi Shibuya, who chairs the university's ethics committee, says the panel did determine that Fujii deliberately bypassed ethical procedures in eight of nine cases.

The university is now looking into nine additional papers brought to its attention by the editors. Some are review articles citing the retracted papers, which means they are also under suspicion, Takamatsu says. But determining the validity of other papers is challenging. Some of the experimental work was done elsewhere. In a few cases involving a minor journal, the university had to request copies of the papers from the publisher. University officials are no longer in touch with Fujii and don't know his whereabouts. Nonetheless, Takamatsu says a report should be filed in about 10 days.

Masafumi Akahira, head of research integrity at University of Tsukuba, which Fujii lists as his affiliation in 100 papers, wrote in an e-mail that the university is also working on an appropriate response to the editors.

The dubious record for the most retractions is now believed to be held by Joachim Boldt, a German anesthesiologist. The validity of some 90 of his papers was first questioned several years ago by the same group of editors.