Saturday, April 07, 2007

Further fulminations in CIRM's Cha-Gate

Californiastemcellreport has published letters by Cha directed to the Los Angeles Times and by Cha employee (and co-author) Sook-Hwan Lee to The Scientist. As a preface to this, the ORIGINAL issue was a grant by California's CIRM to a non-profit arm (CHA-RMI) of Cha's CHA Biotech, which is a for-profit entity. The investigator on the grant is Chung Hyung Min, a professor and the director of the project at CHA Stem Cell Institute; the issue of ties of Chung Hyung Min to any for-profit entity or generally how Chung Hyung Min might benefit financially from the outcome of the research have not been addressed. So far, Cha-Gate is about Cha.

Two different scientific papers have been brought up in Cha-Gate, one a paper published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine and one in Fertility and Sterility. The paper in Fertility and Sterility is stated to have been copied from a paper in the Korean Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, of which the first author was Kim, who did not appear as an author of the Fertility and Sterility paper, as initially published. The above-noted letters by Cha and Lee relate ONLY to the paper in Fertility and Sterility.

Cha's letter to the Times FIRST asserts that he is entitled to "first author credit" [on the Fertility and Sterility paper]. SECOND, addresses the absence of Kim's name as an author of the Fertility and Sterility paper. Cha does not actually say Kim was ever a named author on the Fertility and Sterility paper; he indicates Kim was acknowledged: Dr. Jeong-Hwan Kim says he should have been listed as an author. In fact, Dr. Sook-Hwan Lee’s Feb. 5, 2005 letter to F&S, enclosing the manuscript, credited Dr. Kim with “clinicopathological analysis and statistical analysis." If Kim wasn't an author to begin with, then the sentence "Dr. Kim’s name was dropped when he left Korea and he could not be found to sign the paperwork required by F&S" has no antecedent basis. THIRD, Cha says that Kim's contribution was marginal: "Lab documentation shows that Dr. Kim’s contribution to the actual research was marginal." FOURTH, Cha suggests Kim's submission was without authority: "Dr. Kim submitted the paper in Korean to the Korean Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology (KSOG), listing himself as first and corresponding author, without her knowledge or consent."

The FIFTH point, about the plagiarism / copyright issue, is made in an interesting manner: She [Lee] translated the article into English for F&S, and she was the only author who knew of the prior KSOG publication. None of the other authors, including myself, were aware of the article’s prior publication. Dr. Lee was correctly listed as an author on both papers, so plagiarism is also out of the question with regard to Dr. Lee. IPBiz has to comment here. As pointed out repeatedly on IPBiz, plagiarism and copyright infringement are two DIFFERENT matters. Dr. Lee is currently facing [criminal] charges for an intellectual property violation, copyright infringement. Cha's letter is basically an admission that Lee COPIED the work of another [Kim] and PUBLISHED it without permission of the AUTHOR [Kim]. The Korean court system is currently evaluating this matter. As to plagiarism, IPBiz is of the opinion that one can plagiarize ONESELF. That is if single author A publishes one work in journal X, and then author A publishes the identical work in journal Y without referencing the prior work in journal X, that is a form of plagiarism. However, we don't even need to reach the merits of that viewpoint here. Lee COPIED the work of author Kim, and didn't put Kim's name on the paper. That's old-fashioned plagiarism. Separately, Lee signed a form for Fertility and Sterility that the work had not published before. In view of Cha's admission, that would be a knowing falsehood, leading to, at the least, a breach of contract.

Sixth, Cha addressed in the LA Times letter his designation WITHIN the U.S. as an M.D.

The preface of Lee's letter to The Scientist states:

It is not true that Dr. Jeong Hwan Kim “performed the bulk of the research,” nor is it true the paper was submitted to F&S without Dr. Kim listed as an author. As of this writing, F&S has not censured me or any other authors. And Dr. DeCherney’s comment that all of the authors of the paper “perjured themselves” is baseless, as I will explain below.

Lee's letter addresses the status of Kim as to the Cha group:

Most of the research was accomplished by myself and other researchers in the Human Genetics Laboratory of CHA Hospital. Dr. Kim became involved in 2002 when he asked for my guidance on his doctorate thesis and joined us as a part-time researcher.

IPBiz notes that the status of Kim as to Cha needs to be understood. What does "part-time researcher" mean? Did Kim have an employment contract with Cha, and, if so, what were the obligations of Kim under the contract? This is relevant to the statement in the Lee letter: "I agreed to help Dr. Kim with his doctoral thesis and permit him to participate in the research on the condition that any resulting paper would be submitted to an SCI journal." This assertion does not actually say that Kim was forbidden from writing up and submitting Kim's work ON HIS OWN.

Lee suggests that Kim took the data, and writes: "The loss of our original data deprived me of an ability to write a second paper, yet I remained committed to submitting the research to an SCI publication." Lee also writes: "None of the other authors, except myself, knew that the article had been published in KSOG." Just as an inquiry, IPBiz wonders if the ONLY source of the data was Kim's paper in KSOG, how could the co-authors, who presumably reviewed the data used for Fertility and Sterility, NOT KNOW they were looking at a paper submitted to KSOG? Also, would there not have been discussion to the effect Kim stole our data, and the only data we have now is in the KSOG paper. If things happened the way Lee suggests, it's hard to believe there would not have been discussion of Kim's [purported] bad acts among the co-authors.

Lee states that Kim was a named author on the initial submission to Fertility and Sterility, but her statement looks a bit like Cha's:

Dr. Kim was included as an author on the original submission to F&S. My Feb. 5, 2005 letter to the editor of F&S, enclosing the manuscript, credited him with "clinicopathologica1 analysis and statistical analysis."

But Dr. Kim could not be found to sign paperwork required by F&S. His name was dropped for this reason only. When Dr Kim surfaced in 2006, I wrote two letters to F&S requesting his inclusion as an author. F&S never replied.

There is a further factual dispute:

The paperwork F&S required the authors to sign was related to “financial” conflict of interests, not prior publication. None of the other authors, except myself, knew that the article had been published in KSOG. Hence, Dr. DeCherney’s ‘perjury’ allegation against the authors is without merit.

The long and the short of the last two points is SIMPLE. Someone (Dr. Lee or Fertility and Sterility) should produce the initial copy of the manuscript (so that one can see "who" the AUTHORS were. Separately, someone should produce the agreement signed by Dr. Lee with Fertility and Sterility to see if "no prior publication" was part of the agreement.

BECAUSE Dr. Lee has acknowledged that financial conflict of interests WAS part of the agreement, it should be determined if Dr. Lee (and the OTHER authors who signed an agreement with Fertility and Sterility) acknowledged the existence of Korean patent application number 10-0554102, filed 4 Sept 2003, long BEFORE the submission to Fertility and Sterility.

This returns us to the original topic, which is the grant by CIRM to a team including Chung Hyung Min. Did CIRM bother to check financial conflicts of interest there? Have they gone through the Korean patent literature? If not so, they are fully on notice at this point.

Other relevant posts on IPBiz: [which discusses the issue with the Korean patent application]

As a footnote, it is possible that Dr. Lee is being a bit tricky about the "no prior publications" business.

The author instructions for Fertility and Sterility specify

#1. Original papers, contributed solely to Fertility and Sterility® and limited to the fields of fertility, sterility, or the physiology of reproduction, will be considered for publication. (...) In an accompanying letter, authors should state that the material contained in the manuscript has not been published, has not been submitted, or is not being submitted elsewhere for publication.

#2. Prior to publishing, the author(s) must sign and return the "Assignment of Copyright and Financial Subsidy Disclosure Form." This form will be supplied by the publisher.

#3. Persons who have contributed intellectually to the paper but whose contributions do not justify authorship may be named and their function or contribution described, e.g. "scientific adviser," "data collections," or "participation in clinical trial." Such persons must have given their permission to be named. Authors are responsible for obtaining written permission from the persons acknowledged by name, because readers may infer their endorsement of the data and conclusions.

#4. Conflict of interest: All conflict of interest (financial or otherwise) and all sources of financial support must be listed on the title page. These include providers of supplies and services from a commercial organization. All commercial affiliations must be disclosed, regardless of whether they are a source of funding. The conflict of interest form can be found at under "Author Files."

The discussion within The Scientist is on the internet.



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