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Empirical violation of Arrow’s theorem!

Regular blog readers know about Arrow’s theorem, which is that any result can be published no more than five times.

Well . . . I happened to be checking out Retraction Watch the other day and came across this:

“Exactly the same clinical study” published six times

Here’s the retraction notice in the journal Inflammation:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief.

The authors have published results from exactly the same clinical study and patient population in 6 separate articles, without referencing the publications in any of the later articles:

1. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2013. Olmesartan/amlodipine combination versus olmesartan or amlodipine monotherapies on blood pressure and insulin resistance in a sample of hypertensive patients. Clinical and Experimental Hypertension 35: 301–307. doi:10.​3109/​10641963.​2012.​721841.

2. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’Angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2013. Effects of an olmesartan/amlodipine fixed dose on blood pressure control, some adipocytokines and interleukins levels compared with olmesartan or amlodipine monotherapies. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics 38: 48–55. doi:10.​1111/​jcpt.​12021.

3. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’Angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2013. Variation of some inflammatory markers in hypertensive patients after 1 year of olmesartan/amlodipine single-pill combination compared with olmesartan or amlodipine monotherapies. Journal of the American Society of Hypertension 7: 32–39. doi:10.​1016/​j.​jash.​2012.​11.​006.

4. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’Angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2013. Evaluation of safety and efficacy of a fixed olmesartan/amlodipine combination therapy compared to single monotherapies. Expert Opinion on Drug Safety 12: 621–629. doi:10.​1517/​14740338.​2013.​816674.

5. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’Angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2014. Different aspects of sartan + calcium antagonist association compared to the single therapy on inflammation and metabolic parameters in hypertensive patients. Inflammation 37: 154–162. doi:10.​1007/​s10753-013-9724-x.

6. Derosa, G., Cicero, A.F.G., Carbone, A., Querci, F., Fogari, E., D’Angelo, A., Maffioli, P. 2014. Results from a 12 months, randomized, clinical trial comparing an olmesartan/amlodipine single pill combination to olmesartan and amlodipine monotherapies on blood pressure and inflammation. European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 51: 26–33. doi:10.​1016/​j.​ejps.​2013.​08.​031.

In addition, the article in Inflammation contains results published especially in articles 2 and 6, which is the main reason for retraction of the article in Inflammation.

The publisher apologizes for the inconvenience caused.

From my perspective, though, it’s all worth it to see a counterexample to a longstanding theorem. Bruno Frey must be soooooo jealous right now.

P.S. I don’t think it’s so horrible to publish similar material in different places. Not everyone reads every article and so it can be good to reach different audiences. But if you have multiple versions of an article, you should make that clear. Otherwise you’re poisoning the meta-analytic well.

9 Comments

  1. bob says:

    Arguably, this is a confirmation, not a violation, of Arrow’s theorem. The retraction has reduced the number of valid publications from siz to five, re-establishing a world-state consistent with the theorem. It does suggest that there can be temporal effects which are not accounted for in the common statement of the theorem, but that’s OK as it offers opportunities for new research (and no more than five resulting publications, given an infinite time horizon).

  2. Rahul says:

    IOW, Arrow’s theorem predicts equilibrium behavior. Under the kinetic control regime n>5 is allowed.

  3. Clyde Schechter says:

    “I don’t think it’s so horrible to publish similar material in different places. Not everyone reads every article and so it can be good to reach different audiences. “

    Well, at least the journals that I typically submit articles to ask you to affirm that you have not previously published the same results elsewhere. So there is a breach of integrity involved, at a minimum. Moreover, a lot of resources go into publication: editors, reviewers, publication staff, glossy paper, postage, wrappers, and on and on. It doesn’t make sense to waste those resources to disseminate information that can already be found elsewhere. And although not everyone reads every article, anyone who is interested in the topic can find relevant publications easily with a quick search on Google Scholar or PubMed. And if the article is more than 1 year old and the research was publicly funded, even the article itself can be accessed without charge from PubMed Central.

    Moreover, it’s a pretty safe bet that these authors used (or were planning to use) these as six separate publications on CVs submitted to appointment and promotion committees or to impress grant reviewers with their productivity.

    So at the very least its wasteful of resources, and it does seem to involve a more than trivial degree of fraud.

    • Jack PQ says:

      +1

      Today journals are mostly about giving papers a stamp of approval and a gauge of quality (though imperfect!).
      If it’s just about dissemination, there’s google, arxiv, ssrn, etc. Makes no sense to publish the same thing several times in different outlets, seems to me.

      • jrkrideu says:

        Nowadays I agree. This was not always true in the past and publishing roughly the same results in different journals probably was justified in certain circumstances.

        Many (20+?) years ago I notices that Edwin Fleishman seemed to have been publishing very similar papers in different journals. I forget the details but probably almost the same article in two journals with widely different sets of readers and I think I saw it two or three times.

        The publications, IIRC, were back in the 1960’s and given the much smaller number of relevant journals it would have been obvious to anyone following Fleishman’s work that they were similar. One could not get lost in the crowd of journals as one can today.

        At first I thought that it was double counting of results but then came to the conclusion that it was a justified strategy to disseminate some fascinating results at a time when we did not have google, etc.

        This was also back in the day when publication counts were nowhere near as important as they are now and I don’t think impact ratings had even been invented so it was unlikely to be gaming the system.

  4. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Hey… I take that combination! More articles, please, preferably focused on exactly my type of heterogeneity.

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