World-renowned concussion expert Dr. Paul McCrory has been accused of ten more counts of plagiarism, leading experts to wonder how much original research the neurologist has produced and whether he deserves the hundreds of thousands of dollars in research grants he has received.
McCrory resigned as chair of the influential Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) in March after the British Journal of Sports Medicine retracted one of its 2005 editorials alleging that the work was “unlawful and unjustifiable infringement of copyright”. led by Prof. Steve Haake.
At the time, McCrory was quoted as apologizing to Retraction Watch, saying his failure to credit Haake’s work was a mistake and “not intentional or intentional.”
This month, Guardian Australia reported further allegations of plagiarism against McCrory, a volunteer at the prestigious Florey Institute for Medical Research in Melbourne. McCrory did not respond to requests for comment at this time.
Now, Nick Brown, a data analyst at Linnaeus University in Sweden, claims he’s found 10 more examples of McCrory’s plagiarism, including a failure to match material from his own previously published work.
“Dr. McCrory has been producing very similar stories for 20 years, during which time, as far as I could ascertain, he has done very little original empirical or other research,” Brown said.
“If you’re saying exactly the same thing on this subject as you were a decade ago, what kind of research are you doing?”
The new allegations of plagiarism concern works published between 2001 and 2018. According to Brown, in most cases McCrory appears to have recycled up to 90% of his own previously published work for publication elsewhere without attribution, including the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which he edited once published.
In one instance, Brown alleges McCrory uncredited the work of a Washington Post journalist in a chapter he contributed to a book on recovery from sports concussions. In another alleged example, in McCrory, an article he wrote about brain swelling after head injury, appears to have uncredited portions of the text copied from a book on traumatic brain injuries in children and adolescents.
In many of the cases, Brown says, McCrory appears to have taken portions of the work from his previous articles and combined that work into a new article or book chapter. None of the pieces contain new, original clinical research.
A history of publishing articles frequently is key for researchers and academics who can secure funding and grants for further research and build their reputation.
The neurophysiologist Dr. Alan Pearce, an associate professor at La Trobe University, said this makes self-plagiarism unethical in science because it can give the impression that a researcher is constantly creating new work.
“There is no excuse for any form of plagiarism, including self-plagiarism,” he said.
“It’s still dishonest and unethical.”
He said that research funding, both government and philanthropic, “actually doesn’t place enough emphasis on what is produced — say, original research papers — they do place emphasis on a researcher’s track record of winning grants.”
“So someone who has won millions of dollars, especially at the NHMRC [National Health and Medical Research Council] or Australian Research Council grants is considered to have a better track record than someone who has published dozens of original research studies but not received many grants.
Pearce said the lack of funding for the original sports-related head injury research and concussion guidelines, which were influenced by a well-connected network of a few people, including McCrory, meant new developments were slow. He believes that funding bodies should work harder to ensure that funds go to original research in this area.
“In the event of a concussion, people literally die because nobody can help and research is so slow,” he said.
dr Chris Nowinski, the executive chairman and founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in the US, has previously accused McCrory of misinterpreting and misrepresenting Boston University’s brain injury research and downplaying the prevalence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of retired athletes.
Nowinski said US sporting codes have sought representation from experts appointed by players’ associations or players’ advocates, not just team doctors, to improve concussion protocols. He is pushing for similar action in Australia.
“You need a voice in public health that recognizes that everything in the [professional leagues] will affect what happens to children and the protocols and messages need to be aligned to protect both groups,” he said.
Former Western Bulldogs player Liam Picken is assisted off the field after suffering a concussion in 2017. Photo Credit: Will Russell/AFL Media/Getty Images
In March, the AFL announced a full and independent review of the work of McCrory, who for years treated and diagnosed AFL players and advised the league on concussion cases.
The AFL said at the time the review was being conducted because of the plagiarism allegations, and after the league was unable to answer questions about concussion research, McCrory is said to have headed for the governing body, including how players were recruited for the study and the evidence McCrory nursed to inform politics. The review is not yet complete.
Separately, the Guardian revealed that in May 2018 McCrory voluntarily “made an enforceable undertaking to the Medical Board of Australia that he will not perform any neurodiagnostic procedures, nerve conduction studies or electromyography until approved by the Board”. The AFL was unaware of this until informed of the commitment by Guardian Australia. McCrory did not respond to requests for comment.
Guardian Australia analysis shows McCrory received at least $1,530,552 directly in the form of four publicly funded individual grants and bursaries through the NHMRC. He was also appointed as an examiner for three other group projects that received public funding.
Analysis of McCrory’s publication history reveals little evidence for original concussion and head injury research. Guardian Australia was unable to identify any peer-reviewed clinical trial publications or randomized controlled trials led by McCrory in relation to concussion in sport. McCrory did not answer questions about this.
In the early 2000s, McCrory was appointed as an Associate Investigator on a project looking at the cognitive and behavioral consequences of concussion in young children, led by Prof Vicki Anderson at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.
Anderson said McCrory played no role in collecting or evaluating the data, nor did he perform data entry or analysis for the project and received no income from the grant. Neither Anderson nor McCrory responded to further questions about McCrory’s role in the study.
McCrory is also named as an investigator on a 2017-2019 Florey Institute project, which received $1,102,245.74 from NHMRC, that examined the accumulation of CTE-linked proteins in the brain and brain function in individuals with concussion several decades after a head injury.
Prof. Christopher Rowe, the lead researcher on this project, did not respond to questions about McCrory’s involvement in the project or any published peer-reviewed research that resulted from it. McCrory also did not respond to requests for comment on the grant, but there is no indication that he personally benefited.
McCrory was also named lead investigator in a randomized controlled trial that evaluated the effect of acupuncture on knee pain in 2008 and received $701,120.13 in public funding. An article listing McCrory as a co-author was published out of this research and has no association with concussion.
This raises the question of how McCrory was able to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for concussion research when some of his only original clinical research appears to be in the field of acupuncture.
McCrory’s most recent grant is a $577,188.50 Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Next-Generation Clinical Researcher Grant, awarded in 2017 and announced in a press release by former Health Secretary Greg Hunt. He is to be acquitted in 2023.
The funding will be used to study the long-term consequences of mild traumatic brain injury and “to fill the current gap in knowledge about the impact of this disorder on individuals,” Hunt said in a press release at the time.
Health department “concerned” about allegations
A Department for Health and Elderly Care spokesman said: “The Department is aware of and concerned about the allegations [of plagiarism] made about McCrory”.
“The department has been informed that the responsible institution will investigate the allegations and advise on the results.
“Upon receipt, the department will consider any action that may be required in response to the findings of the investigation. It would be inappropriate to comment on these matters before seeking advice from the institution.”
A spokesman for the Florey Institute said: “The MRFF Next Generation Clinical Researcher Program is an ongoing five-year fellowship funded by Dr. Paul McCrory and is scheduled to end on December 31, 2022. Grant-related reporting obligations and acquittals related to the grant were met, including the submission of annual financial expense reports.
“A summary of the completed project results and published papers will be included in the final project report.”
The institute did not answer questions about the scope of the project or the recruitment of study participants.
Next Generation Clinical Researcher Program grants are grants intended solely for the salaries of recipients.
A spokesman for NHMRC said all financial reports for the other grants had been submitted as required and had been reviewed and accepted by NHMRC.
“Research grants will be awarded on the basis of rigorous, competitive peer review, with the independent peer reviewers assessing applications using evaluation criteria outlined in the relevant program guidelines,” the spokesperson said.
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