Trends in Academic "Ghost Publications" in Plastic Surgery Residency Applications: A 3-Year Study

Plast Reconstr Surg Glob Open. 2020 Jan 17;8(1):e2617. doi: 10.1097/GOX.0000000000002617. eCollection 2020 Jan.


Plastic surgery is an attractive specialty to medical students. Residency training programs have the luxury of selecting their trainees from the "cream of the crop" from United States medical schools. Because of the steep competition for PGY-1 integrated program positions, the temptation exists for applicants to falsify parts of their applications, particularly those parts that are difficult to verify.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of the Integrated Plastic Surgery applications from the years (2010-2013) was done. Two reviewers manually and independently handsearched each of the articles in the databases (Medline, Scopus, Clinical trials, Google scholar) additionally, a specialized medical librarian corroborated. A ghost article was defined as the inability to find the listed applicant in the authorship list of the claimed article/abstract/chapter or the inability to find the submitted article. Misrepresentation was defined as a change in authorship order. Data were summarized and analyzed, generalized estimating equations model was used. SAS software, v9.4.

Results: All 392 applicants were included, 159 (2010-2011), 120 (2011-2012), and 119 (2012-2013). The number of manually reviewed records was 2,124. "Ghost" authorship was found in 234 articles out of 2,124 (11.02%). The overall rate of "Ghost" authorship in applicants to our program was found to be 34.4%, 135 applicants and misrepresentation in 5 cases (1.28%).

Conclusions: Ghost publications are present in Plastic Surgery applications, its trend is similar through the years, "protective" factors are: first authorship and published peer reviewed abstract/article.

Keywords: Academic Plastic Surgery; Ethics; Publication; academic dishonesty.