October 7, 2022

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Sports concussion expert who resigned amid plagiarism claims accused of copying more articles | Plagiarism

A neurologist who resigned from a global sports concussion organisation amid allegations of plagiarism in a medical journal editorial has been accused of copying material in other articles without attribution.

Dr Paul McCrory, who in 2016 described concussion among NFL players as “overblown” and has advised Australian Rules administrators on the issue, stood down as chair of Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) this week after the British Journal of Sports Medicine retracted the 2005 editorial, citing an “unlawful and indefensible breach of copyright” of the work of Prof Steve Haake.

The CISG receives funding from peak sporting bodies, including the International Olympic Committee and FIFA.

McCrory was editor of the British Journal of Sports Medicine at the time his editorial was published.

He was quoted on the website Retraction Watch on 4 March as saying he had requested the paper be retracted after realising an unfinished and unreferenced draft had been accidentally uploaded.

“Not the final version, and as the draft was incomplete it failed to appropriately cite the original and excellent work of Professor Haake,” McCrory reportedly told Retraction Watch.

“This was entirely my error which I did not pick up on at the time and I apologise.

“I am in the process of removing any reference to the article on the various online manuscript databases. I am also rechecking the whole series of warmup articles that were uploaded at that time to see whether I have made the same error in other articles in the upload process.”

McCrory, an honorary associate with the prestigious Florey Institute for medical research in Melbourne, has reportedly requested a second article be retracted from the same journal. He was quoted on Retraction Watch admitting a similar error had occurred.

He said: “The errors were not deliberate or intentional but nevertheless require redress as what has been published is plagiarism. Once again I apologise for my error.”

It is alleged about half of the article was copied from an article Haake wrote in 2000 for Physics Today.

McCrory has also reportedly sought advice from the journal as to whether a third article should be retracted.

He was quoted on Retraction Watch stating: “This [article] has the correct citations including the source material of the authors and the news article where the text came from, however the typesetting had not included the quotation marks in the text and not inserted the references in the text correctly.”

He has not responded to requests from Guardian Australia for comment.

Analysis of McCrory’s past articles

Data analyst Nick Brown, who is affiliated with Linnaeus University in Sweden and reviews scientific papers for errors, told Guardian Australia that based on analysis he had done he believed it was not the first time McCrory may have plagiarised work.

Brown has examined 10 more of McCrory’s published pieces published from 2002 onwards that appear to contain significant amounts of plagiarised work without attribution. These include articles by McCrory on concussion. McCrory did not respond to questions from Guardian Australia about Brown’s analysis.

McCrory currently advises the AFL on its concussion policies. The AFL did not respond to Guardian Australia’s request for comment as to whether the plagiarism allegations concerned them or were leading to a review of their affiliation with him.

McCrory has previously claimed the issue of concussion within the NRL was “overblown”. While he was with CISG, the organisation developed the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool, which is used to assess athletes with head injuries.

Head injuries are of increasing concern in sport, with groundbreaking research into the long-term ramifications of concussion by the Australian Sports Brain Bank in February finding chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of more than half of a cohort of donors, including three under the age of 35.

McCrory is lead author of the 2nd to 5th international consensus statements on concussion in sport.

In a lecture he delivered in 2016 to the Florey Institute on “Media, Myths and Medicine”, McCrory said “all the carry-on and hoo-ha you get from the United States” about the dangers of concussion were not nearly as serious as some reports had led the public to believe. He said the media was guilty of “over-simplifying” a complex topic.

Dr Chris Nowinski is chief executive and founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, which supports athletes affected by concussions and traumatic brain injuries. In an article published on the foundation’s website, Nowinski argues that McCrory misinterpreted and accordingly misrepresented Boston University brain injury research during his 2016 Florey Institute lecture.

During the lecture McCrory said Boston University researchers found about 4% of retired athletes get CTE.

“The other way of looking at it is that 96% of athletes do not get it,” McCrory said. “Yet if you read the media, particularly from the United States, you get a very different perspective.”

But Nowinski argues that misrepresents what the Boston University research found.

The research examined prevalence of CTE in deceased professional American football players who died between February 2008 and June 2010, and of 321 known player deaths the brains of 12 underwent postmortem examination. All 12 showed evidence of CTE, suggesting an estimated lifetime prevalence of at least 3.7%, the study found.

NFL teams the New York Giants and Washington clash in January. Photograph: Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports

But the authors of the study also wrote this was a conservative estimate because only a small sample of deceased players brains had been studied. Given all of those that were examined had evidence of CTE, it suggests CTE is a serious public health issue, the authors wrote.

Nowinski believes McCrory also misinterpreted the Boston University research in a 2013 publication where he wrote that if the 12 brains studied represented all CTE cases ever in the NFL, “the incidence rate would be less than 0.01%”.

McCrory did not respond to questions about Nowinski’s assertions.

US concussion expert says retractions raise concerns

Nowinski told Guardian Australia: “McCrory is the lead author of one of the most influential consensus guidelines through which global concussion and CTE prevention and policy efforts are built upon, and it is critical that those guidelines reflect the best science.

“When any researcher has multiple articles retracted over a week, it raises concerns about all of their publications. I look forward to learning how Florey and other institutions he has worked with plan to address the revelations.

“To quote Paul McCrory on plagiarism, ‘the price of trust is eternal vigilance’, and ‘the higher up the greasy pole of academia one climbs, the greater the fall when things go pear shaped’.”

A Florey Institute spokesperson said Florey “treats all matters concerning scientific integrity with the utmost seriousness and in compliance with applicable rules and regulations”.

A spokesperson for the University of Melbourne, also affiliated with McCrory, said the university was “currently reviewing the circumstances and determining next steps”.

“The University of Melbourne upholds the highest levels of research integrity and rigour,” the spokesperson said.

Dr Deborah Apthorp, a cognitive neuroscientist, said the allegations of plagiarism were concerning and that scientists need to be accountable because they were often funded to carry out research to benefit the public.