Legal Threats Backfire

By Neuroskeptic | December 13, 2013 10:04 am

Last week, a young radiation biologist by the name of Benjamin J Hayempour was featured on the blog Retraction Watch. Hayempour had just had a paper retracted for its ‘unexplained close similarity’ to another paper – a phrase that many people would consider a euphemism for ‘plagiarism’.

Plagiarism is so common that it’s a bit boring. If one plagiarized paper had been all there was to the story, Retraction Watch might not have run it; it certainly wouldn’t have got much traffic.

However, Hayempour went and made the story at lot more interesting – by having his lawyer threaten Retraction Watch with a lawsuit. This was probably the worst move he could possibly have made. Within hours, a mob of readers had trawled Hayempour’s other publications and uncovered numerous other “close similarities”. Instead of one retraction, he might well end up with several.

And I’m happy to join this mob, because it’s important to send a message to Hayempour and those like him: if you try to get lawyers involved, the gloves are off. There are lots of people who might not care about what you did, but they care a great deal about your trying to hide it. Any sympathy you might otherwise have enjoyed will be gone.

On that note, I’ve been looking over a Hayempour paper from 2013 about brain scans and schizophrenia. I’ve discovered unexplained close similarity with a paper from McGuire et al (2007) in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences.

For starters, there’s an identical Figure (!)

hayempourActually, it’s not quite the same. Hayempour’s version includes some crudely-placed red lettering.

McGuire et al’s caption appears verbatim in the main text of Hayempour’s paper:

hayempour_mcguireThe passage even contains a classic plagiarism ‘smoking gun’. McGuire et al twice misspelled “haemoglobin” as “heamoglobin”… and so did Hayempour et al.

There’s more. There is a passage beginning “take uncompetitive antagonists…” which is 140 words long and almost identical in both papers. See also “Molecular neuroimaging studies permit…”, “Molecular imaging studies in schizophrenia are consistent…”. And so on. I also found unexplained close textual similarities to this 2010 paper by Meyer-Lindenberg e.g. the passage “Neuroimaging has been useful in defining…”, and others.

Hayempour et al do cite McGuire et al and Meyer-Lindenberg, but they nowhere acknowledge having (seemingly) taken a figure, and hundreds of words verbatim, from them.

I have reported this to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease And Parkinsonism – we’ll see what they have to say.

UPDATE 14th December 2013: After this post went up, Hayempour began to engage in the discussion in the comments over at Retraction Watch, where he admits to having made some mistakes, but defends other aspects of his published work.

UPDATE #2 12th January 2014: In the aftermath of this post, I entered into a correspondence with Hayempour. He has made corrections to the J Alz Dis Parkinsonism paper I scrutinized, enclosing some of the copied text in quotes with attribution, and rewriting other sections. The revised PDF, which is here, no longer contains unexplained similarities as far as I can see. Regarding the lawyer who threatened Retraction Watch, Hayempour asked me to include this statement from him:

Not only do I cherish and admire the scientific method, but I advocate for true transparency in biomedical research. A specific reporter was given information and decided to bend the story to his own liking. Even after all members involved wrote countless emails to him that he is publishing a story which didn’t reflect the true state of events, he refused to comply. Consequently, upon being threatened by the ability of this journalist to bend the truth in order to serve himself with a better story, our group hired an attorney.

Scientific transparency is key in medical progress, and it is an ethical pillar I stand by throughout my work. We had been portrayed as attempting to hire attorneys to cover our story, when nothing could be further from the truth. We always have been and will be widely accessible to peer comments and critiques so that we may grow as a scientific community. I believe that the underlying truth is always revealed, and it is very clear to all scientists and researchers involved that the journalist with an agenda refused to report the honest facts.

Lawyers and attorneys aside , I am optimistic that as an honest biomedical community we will continue to work diligently in producing the best work we can, and we will use the criticisms and suggestions of our scientific colleagues – and not dishonest journalism – to improve the quality of our work.

UPDATE #3 13th January 2014: Ivan Oransky of Retraction Watch made the following comment in response to Hayempour’s statement from yesterday:

I’m glad to see that Hayempour has corrected the “unexplained similarities” in the paper Neuroskeptic analyzed, although best practices dictate that the article be marked as corrected, with an explanation of why. That’s absent, as far as I can see.

However, his statement misrepresents events in a significant way that makes other claims in it meaningless:

“Even after all members involved wrote countless emails to him that he is publishing a story which didn’t reflect the true state of events, he refused to comply. Consequently, upon being threatened by the ability of this journalist to bend the truth in order to serve himself with a better story, our group hired an attorney.”

Hayempour claims to have hired an attorney after “countless emails” saying were were “publishing a story which didn’t reflect the true state of events.” But as our post shows, his attorney threatened to sue us before we had even posted anything. In fact, the legal threat included this:“Please refer to this letter as specific notice of our law firm’s intent to pursue legal action against you if you do not cease and desist correspondence with members of the Group.”

So not only was Hayempour trying to keep us from publishing the story, he was trying to keep us from even reporting on it before publishing.

“We had been portrayed as attempting to hire attorneys to cover our story, when nothing could be further from the truth.” he writes in his new statement. That’s contradicted by facts, and by Hayempour’s own comment on our post.

As far as those “countless emails,” there were indeed a lot of them, but at no point did Hayempour or any of his colleagues identify any alleged factual inaccuracies in the post. (The exception was Hayempour’s claim that he was misquoted, which we noted in the post along with the fact that it isn’t true.) We offered them the same opportunity to write comments on the post that we offer everyone.

ResearchBlogging.orgHayempour BJ, Newberg A, & Alavi A (2013). Neuromolecular Imaging Instrumentation Demonstrating Dysfunctional Brain Function in Schizophrenic Patients. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease And Parkinsonism, 3 PMID: 23914316

McGuire, P., Howes, O. D., Stone, J., & Fusar-Poli, P. (2007). Functional neuroimaging in schizophrenia: diagnosis and drug discovery Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 29 (2) DOI: 10.1016/j.tips.2007.11.005

  • movingturtle

    Their response to plagiarism by a member of the editorial board should be interesting…
    http://www.omicsonline.org/editorialboard-alzheimers-disease-parkinsonism-open-access.php

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Indeed – although given the size of that Editorial Board, it would almost be more notable if he weren’t on it.

      By my quick count, the journal has more people on the board (71) than it has published papers (65)!

      • movingturtle

        It’s truly impressive. I used to work in Alzheimer’s disease and of those 71 names I recognise 1 from the literature.

  • Rodolphe Nenert

    You need a big pair to copy an entire figure. One would assume that the reviewer(s) would have a look (at least a quick glance) at the papers you’re citing.

  • Richard

    I love that the figure in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinsonism still even has the TRENDS mark in the bottom right corner. How did that get past review..?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Maybe that’s why it got through – maybe they thought it constituted sufficient acknowledgement ;)

  • practiCalfMRI

    Haha! Nice work Neuroskeptic. Similarly, I take the gloves off for articles that are hawked to the press by their authors for their supposed importance to my world. Oh, really? I’d better take a Very Close Look, then.

    For me, this is another excellent reason for post-pub peer review. It’s very easy to blame (pre-pub) reviewers but when was the last time a reviewer had the time (or the suspicion) to check all the cited articles (and those not cited!) for plagiarism? Unless they happen to have plagiarized the reviewer’s work then these catches are unlikely. More eyeballs = good, whether it’s for plagiarism or review. Everyone should be on notice that the world of critical review has changed. Excellent.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      True. Top of my rankings is legal chill, closely followed by money (papers that are adverts for products or are used to market things.) Followed by press hawking for non-commercial reasons.

  • Scott

    they care a great deal about what YOU’RE trying to hide

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      I wrote “they care a great deal about your trying to hide it.” “your” is the fact of trying to hide it, which is your own, not “you are”.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Rolf-Degen/e/B001K1NBP4/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_2 Rolf Degen

    If a company like Google were developing a really powerful plagiarism software, they could use the work of Hayempour to calibrate the program. In the end, there should be a numerical value for the amount of suspected plagiarism in the paper – the Hayempour score.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Qualified researchers steal productivity from diversity (qualified by reason of demonstrated inability) researchers. Social activism will save us from the congenitally consequential and their tyrannies of immersive falsehoods impressed upon the lame, halt, and dim-witted.

  • practiCalfMRI

    Jeepers, the kid’s been busy: http://forinternational.org/about-for/technical-advisory-board/research/

    I feel distinctly pathetic. All I’d managed to do prior to grad school was get one solitary degree and run up an overdraft. This kid’s “built clinics in rural areas for the diagnoses and treatment of malaria and HIV” already. If he really is just a self-confessed lab rat then it appears that someone has been going around the Internet (Linkedin was mentioned at RW) spreading all manner of benevolent information on the guy. What are the chances ya get *that* kind of identity theft, eh?

    PS Just love the manipulated part (b)(i) of the fig you show, Neuroskeptic. What a bad PhotoShop job! Redundant white arrows, clumsy use of matched blue background text boxes, the works! Bally amateur.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

    After this post went up, Hayempour began to engage in the discussion in the comments over at Retraction Watch, where he admits to having made some mistakes, but defends other aspects of his published work.

  • Pingback: Science Needs Vigilantes - Neuroskeptic | DiscoverMagazine.com()

  • Pingback: Author who threatened to sue Retraction Watch has another paper withdrawn | Retraction Watch()

  • Ken

    Neuroskeptic: I have been following this story via Retraction Watch and also your blog. A couple of questions for you: Is it general opinion that it is ok to retroactively correct plagiarism by revising a published paper with quotation marks and some rewording? Hayempour lists very impressive educational credentials. My daughters were taught early (beginning 5th grade) and often about plagiarism. I can’t believe that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. Also, regarding the McGuire, et al., figure from Trends in Pharmacological Sciences: The corrected paper states “Figure 1. Adapted from McGuire et al 2007″. I may very well be quibbling here, but it does not state “with permission”. Have you asked the publisher of Trends in Pharmacological Sciences whether or not Hayempour ever asked for permission to reproduce this figure, was permission granted, and when he asked for it? Thanks very much.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Well spotted. I have not attempted to verify that it was used with permission.

      BH is on record as saying that it was (http://retractionwatch.com/2013/12/04/retraction-prompts-letter-of-explanation-by-co-author-and-a-legal-threat-against-retraction-watch/#comment-70410)

      I’ll ask TIPS…

      • Ken

        Thanks. I am aware that he claimed to have asked for and was granted permission at Retraction Watch. However, I am suspicious – exactly why I asked these questions.

      • Ken

        After the latest and third post at Retraction Watch on BH late today I would say that there is even more reason to be suspicious and doubtful of his claims.

        • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

          This morning I emailed Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, and to the corresponding author on the paper, Paolo Fusar Poli.

          Prof Fusar Poli replied saying that copyright issues are the journal’s responsibility.

          …The journal has not replied yet.

  • ohwilleke

    I will note as follow up to this story that Benjamin Hayempour filed a DCMA takedown notice today alleging copyright violation that has resulted in my December 14, 2013 post as my blog Wash Park Prophet (http://washparkprophet.blogspot.com/) being taken down.

    I have filed a counterclaim to have it reinstated, as my own post does not contain any copyrighted material (not even allegedly plagiarized passages), and instead merely contains citations to journal articles of his allegedly containing plagiarized material and a link to comments to an internet post at Retraction Watch where the analysis showing that those journal articles contained plagiarized materials upon which I relied in condemning him were located. Of course, even if it did contain the allegedly plagiarized material as this post does, it would still be protected by the fair use exception in federal copyright law.

    His filing of the DCMA takedown notice, of course, is entirely improper, as the only permissible basis for filing one is a copyright violation (and in any case, copyright violation was the basis upon which he relied when filing it). He had to make a knowingly false statement to file it, as he was well aware that my post contained no copyrighted material. His allegations that he has been defamed, as he has claimed in e-mails to me (which I considered informed by my knowledge of the field as a lawyer and found to be baseless), are not a basis for a DCMA takedown notice.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      WHAT
      outrageous!

      Have you told Retraction Watch? Email me (neuroskeptic @ googlemail)

  • Jesse W

    Note that Benjamin Jacob Hayempour seems to be trying to change his name (on previously published papers!) to Ayden Jacob. See the discussion here: http://retractionwatch.com/2014/02/01/dmca-notice-forces-removal-of-post-critical-of-author-who-threatened-to-sue-retraction-watch/

    You may want to update your post to mention this.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      I am aware of this. In fairness to him, I will point out that he has said, by way of explanation, that this is for marriage reasons.

      • Jesse W

        I had not heard of that explanation before, thank you. Has he made that claim in public anywhere that you are aware of? Is it typical to change one’s *first* name for “marriage reasons”?

  • Pingback: Plagiarism in Neuroscience | Brain of ZedZed()

  • Research

    I work at an institution where this man recently attempted to get a job. All I have to say is that the plagiarism is the tip of the iceberg, but many institutions have not done enough digging to find out that he has not completed some of the degrees he states to have, and that there have been claims that he has stolen data from past jobs as well. Most disturbingly this pattern of behavior seems to be working for him. He’s been accepted to a number of medical and post-doctoral programs, presumably based upon his plagiarized publication record and false degrees.

  • sarahsue14

    According to another blog, this individual has now changed his name to “Ayden Jacob” and is not longer going by “Benjamin J Hayempour.”

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Neuroskeptic

No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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