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Retractions, plagiarism concerns over dozens of articles by concussion expert

Nine articles from internationally renowned Australian concussion expert Dr Paul McCrory have been retracted from a prestigious medical journal and dozens more have had notices of concern placed above them, after repeated allegations of plagiarism against the neurologist and former long-term sports concussion adviser.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) and its publisher, BMJ, said in an editorial that their trust in McCrory’s work was “broken”. They had verified allegations of plagiarism for five articles authored by the journal’s former editor. Three more articles contained “duplicate (or redundant) publication”.

The Guardian Australia reports that in the ninth retracted article, “McCrory inaccurately quotes and misrepresents the position of Dr Augustus Thorndike,” according to the BJSM editors. “The quote distorts Thorndike’s recommendations for managing ongoing participation in contact sport after concussion, which McCrory used to support his stance in the article.”

The editors’ investigations had “revealed a pattern of publication misconduct on the part of McCrory”, they said, which led to their decision to place a notice to readers, “an expression of concern” on all his sole-authored pieces.

“Plagiarism is scientific misconduct. To plagiarise while holding the position of editor-in-chief of a journal is an abuse of the power and responsibilities that come with this office,” the editorial said.

“The scientific record relies on trust, and BMJ’s trust in McCrory’s work – specifically the articles that he has published as a single author – is broken. We will investigate any new allegations that we receive about McCrory’s work published in BMJ journals and ask other publishers and his institution to do the same.”

Allegations of plagiarism were first aired in March against McCrory, which led to the BJSM’s retraction of one of his 2005 editorials, citing an “unlawful and indefensible breach of copyright” of the work of Professor Steve Haake.

McCrory, who is also an honorary associate with the prestigious Florey Institute for medical research at the University of Melbourne, gave a statement at the time to Retraction Watch, his only public statements on the matter to date, saying his failure to attribute Haake’s work was an error and “not deliberate or intentional”.

McCrory was the chair of the influential Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) and the lead author of four of the group’s five highly influential Consensus Statements on Concussion in Sport, all of which were published in the BJSM. These papers shaped concussion management protocols in professional and amateur sports globally, including multiple football codes, hockey, rugby union and more.

The BJSM editorial noted that McCrory’s “involvement in the concussion consensus statements is his most influential work”. After reviewing “in detail” the most recent statement from 2016, “our conclusion is that we have no concerns about plagiarism”.

“Beyond this, the question of the extent of McCrory’s contribution to and influence on the five versions of the consensus statement is a matter within the purview of the scientific committee appointed by the CISG,” the editorial said.

McCrory stood down from the CISG in March, in the wake of the initial plagiarism allegations.

Separately, in March, Guardian Australia revealed that in May 2018, McCrory had provided an enforceable undertaking to the Medical Board of Australia that he would not perform neurodiagnostic procedures.

Guardian Australia has attempted to contact McCrory numerous times regarding the plagiarism allegations, his clinical research, his treatment of concussed players, the enforceable undertakings to the medical board and related matters and received no response.

In April, in the wake of the allegations, the Australian Football League (AFL) announced an independent review led by Bernard Quinn KC into McCrory’s historical medical research, the circumstances of the undertaking, and the concussion advice provided to the league by him, including “the circumstances in which McCrory treated or assessed AFL or Australian Football League Women players or retired players”.

In September, Guardian Australia reported that Nick Brown, a data analyst at Linnaeus University in Sweden, had found a further 10 instances of alleged plagiarism by McCrory, involving works published between 2001 and 2018, including the unattributed incorporation of a Washington Post journalist’s work into a book chapter about sports concussion recovery, and many instances in which he did not attribute his own previously published work. McCrory did not respond to requests for comment at the time.

The BJSM editorial notes that over his career, McCrory published “at least 164 articles in BMJ journals, of which 40 were co authored research articles”. It has placed concerns notices above the 38 articles that it says are single-authored; this count is disputed by website Retraction Watch, which counts 78 sole-authored articles by McCrory.

 

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The Guardian Australia article – Prestigious medical journal retracts nine more articles authored by concussion expert Paul McCrory (Open access)

 

Retraction Watch article – Concussion researcher Paul McCrory earns nine more retractions, nearly 40 expressions of concern (Open access)

 

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