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We have a confession right up front: You won’t meet the man — a man who claims to be a brain surgeon, no less — we refer to in the headline.

That is because, dear reader, we were not able to contact the person who publishes under the name Michael George Zaki Ghali.

What we do know is that someone using Ghali’s name bought two fake web domains for the Karolinska Institutet to make it look as though he was affiliated with the world-famous medical center and published seven dozen papers in peer reviewed journals owned by Elsevier, serotonin lamictal IMR Press, Taylor & Francis and Wiley. So far, seven those articles have now been retracted, by our count, including recently a 2020 paper in Acta Cardiologica that included CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer as a co-author.

The paper, “ Two dimensional speckle tracking echocardiography detects cardiac allograft stage III vasculopathy in recipients of heart transplants with preserved systolic function,” doesn’t exactly sound like something the host of the Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer would write. With all due respect to Blitzer, he is not a cardiologist.

The article, which was retracted earlier this week, does not appear to have garnered CNN-like ratings, having been cited only twice, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. In the paper, Ghali claims affiliations at the Karolinska, in Stockholm, the University of California, San Francisco, and the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. (Blitzer, the senior author, is listed simply as being at “CNN Headquarters,” something that seems to have escaped the notice of the editor and publisher.)

According to the retraction notice:

We, the Editors and Publisher of Acta Cardiologica, have retracted the following article:

Michael George Zaki Ghali, Rebecca Stewart, George Zaki Ghali & Wolf Blitzer (2020) Two dimensional speckle tracking echocardiography detects cardiac allograft stage III vasculopathy in recipients of heart transplants with preserved systolic function, Acta Cardiologica, DOI: 10.1080/00015385.2020.1800963

Since publication, we have received confirmation from the Karolinska Instituet that the corresponding author is not and has not been affiliated with their institution. The Karolinska Instituet is listed in the above article as having provided funding and ethical approval for the reported study. We have also reached out to the listed co-authors but have not been able to verify their authorship of the article. We have contacted the corresponding author for an explanation, but we have not received a response. As accurately stating the authorship, affiliated institution, ethics approval and the source of funding is core to the integrity of published work, we are therefore retracting the article. The corresponding author listed in this publication has been informed.

We have been informed in our decision-making by our policy on publishing ethics and integrity and the COPE guidelines on retractions.

The retracted article will remain online to maintain the scholarly record, but it will be digitally watermarked on each page as ‘Retracted’.

We asked Elaine Devine, the digital communications director for Taylor & Francis, about the article, and she provided the following statement from the publisher:

This is part of an investigation into six papers and is on-going. After being contacted by one co-author, we have investigated the validity of the warranties given during the publication process, specifically focused on authorship, affiliated institution, ethics approval and funding (as outlined in the retraction notices). Where the requested evidence has not been provided to validate the pre-publication warranties given by the lead author, we have moved forward with retracting the paper in question (as these are core to the integrity of any published paper). We will continue to work on this until the warranties given on all papers can be substantiated.

It turns out there is more to the Karolinska story. Ghali has twice been ordered to turn over domain names linked to Karolinska the real institute, once in June 2020 and again in November 2020. In one decision, Miguel B. O’Farrell, a panelist for the World Intellectual Property Organization, wrote:

The Panel finds that the Respondent has registered and used the disputed domain name intentionally to attempt to attract – for the purposes of the Respondent’s own professional self-promotion (see Karolinska Institutet v. Michael Ghali, supra) and commercial gain – Internet users to its website by creating a likelihood of confusion with the Complainant’s mark as to the source, sponsorship, affiliation, or endorsement. This amounts to bad faith under paragraph 4(b)(iv) of the Policy. The fact that disputed domain name does not currently resolve to any website does not prevent a finding of bad faith.

Ghali, who did not respond to a request for comment, has 84 papers to his name, according to Clarivate Analytics. Among those that have been retracted so far are two papers in Experimental Physiology, one of which, from 2019, lists his affiliation as Drexel University in Philadelphia and the other, from 2020, which states that he has ties to the KI, Barrow, UCSF, the University of Oslo, in Norway, and the University of Helsinki, in Finland.

Earlier this week, the International Journal of Neuroscience — another T&F title — retracted a 2021 article by Ghali and a “George Zaki Ghali” with the following notice:

Since publication, we have received confirmation from University of California, San Francisco that the corresponding author is not and has not been affiliated with their institution. The University of California, San Francisco is listed in the above article as having provided funding and ethical approval for the reported study. We have contacted the corresponding author for an explanation, but we have not received a response. As accurately stating the affiliated institution, ethics approval and the source of funding is core to the integrity of published work, we are therefore retracting the article. The corresponding author listed in this publication has been informed.

Curiously, the PubMed entry for this paper, which no longer appears to be an active link, read:

Statement of Retraction: Effects of isoflurane on arterial blood pressure, heart rate, and phrenic nerve discharge in the decerebrate rat Heinrich Meier What Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra? A Philosophical Confrontation . Translated by Justin Gottschalk . Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press , 2021 , 194 pp. + viii, $50, ISBN: 9780226581569

A philosophical confrontation indeed — or perhaps more evidence that there are an awful lot of ghosts in the machine of scientific publishing.

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