Concussion doctor under surveillance in a plagiarism scandal

For more than two decades, Paul McCrory has been the world’s best physician, shaking up the shock protocols used by sports leagues and organizations around the world.

As leader of the Concussion in Sport Group, McCrory helped select members of the international group and write its four-year consensus statement on the latest concussion research – a true bible for leagues, coaches, doctors and academics, which an NFL spokesman once called ” the basis of all research related to sport. “

But McCrory’s status as a leading goalkeeper for concussion and research has been attacked as he faces numerous accusations that he has plagiarized other scientists, including in articles for a medical journal he edits. He denied deliberately picking up a copy without credit and called one after a downloaded piece “an isolated and unfortunate incident.”

credit …International Foundation for the Study of Concussions and Head Injuries

The scandal has raised questions about the link between sports leagues and the impact they can have on how to interpret brain injury research.

“This is worrying because he has taken the lead in writing a consensus statement that is so influential and we need to have access to his insights,” said Kathleen Bachinski, who teaches public health at Muhlenberg College and has written about head injuries in sports. “McCrory’s research program and published statements and expert witness work come from the point of view of minimizing CTE.”

McCrory’s rise to power in the aftermath of the upheavals is remarkable in part because he is based in Australia, away from research centers studying head injuries in Europe and America. A neurologist at the Flory Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, McCrory has worked for 15 years as a team doctor for Collingwood Football Club, an Australian football team in Melbourne, starting around 1990. He also came to advise the Australian Football League as Formula One races. boxing, football, rugby and who is one of the sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, FIFA and the International Ice Hockey Federation, at the turn of the century.

He expanded his influence by writing hundreds of articles in journals, often based on research by doctors other than his own, and by editing the British Journal of Sports Medicine from 2001 to 2008, which allowed him to write editorials and to help decide which articles have been published. .

McCrory’s status has grown worldwide due to his position in Concussion in Sport Group. He rarely spoke in the news media, accusing him of distorting the dangers of earthquakes in a way that “creates a sense of fear” and filmed Boston University researchers who did the most work on CTE, calling the effects of the earthquakes “transient.” “.

Peter Jess, who represents former Australian Football League players fighting for benefits, has been fighting McCrory and the league for years. Jess said McCrory questioned CTE, suggesting that players’ neurological problems could stem from alcohol or drug abuse or genetics.

Jess compares McCrory’s approach to the “great book on smoking” and questions whether McCrory’s ties to sports leagues have influenced his judgment.

McCrory was a founding member of the concussion group, which issued its first consensus statement at a meeting in 2001 organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the IOC and FIFA. As the sports world becomes increasingly aware of research into the long-term effects of shocks over the past decade, leagues have sought recommendations from the group, which has emerged as a scientific leader offering consensus on the latest research.

“Meanwhile, sport has been happy to let this fly, as they have been ‘independent experts and leaders in concussion’, providing them with industry standards for concussion management,” said Willie Stewart, a neurologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. who runs the largest sports … connected brain bank in Europe.

The first consensus statement published by the concussion group in 2001 had 10 authors. By 2016, when the fifth and final statement was issued, the list of authors had grown to 36 and included Richard Ellenbogen, co-chair of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee at the time, and Alan Sils, who became the NFL’s chief medical officer. league in 2017

But as the group’s influence grew, more of its members were supported by the sports leagues the group was to advise. This relationship has led critics to question whether the group can really offer a rigorous and unbiased interpretation of the head injury study.

“There is no reason to say that this is a consensus, this is a consensus of people who have been given a lot of money to do this,” said David Michaels, a former assistant secretary of labor at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. author of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Fraud. “This does not mean that they are deliberately hiding the truth. But we know that financial self-interest blinds them to what they have. “

The first allegation of plagiarism against McCrory was for an editorial he wrote in 2005 for the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which he edited at the time. But Steve Haake, a professor of sports engineering in Sheffield, England, noticed that about half of it was taken from an article published by Haake five years earlier in Physics World.

This post does not address the issue. Last year, Haake raised the issue with the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which eight months later, on February 28, withdrew McCrory’s article for “illegal and vulnerable copyright infringement.”

Haake was not pleased.

“I would like to see some kind of punishment for such blatant plagiarism as it is for students,” Haake wrote on the Retraction Watch website. “If someone can steal our words at any time and get away with it, what’s the point?”

McCrory did not respond to a request for comment, but told Retraction Watch that the plagiarism case was “isolated.” Until then, Nick Brown, a doctor who runs a popular blog documenting shortcomings in published research, found two more publications published by McCrory in the British Journal that were potentially plagiarized. McCrory said one of the drafts of the article had been uploaded prematurely and that he had asked the magazine to withdraw the article. In the other, he said, the kit does not include the necessary quotes.

“In both cases, the mistakes were not intentional or intentional, but they still require compensation, as what was published is plagiarism,” McCrory told Retraction Watch. “I apologize once again for my mistake.”

Since then, Brown has published what he said are even more cases of McCrory raising the work of other writers in bulk. Chris Novinsky, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, cites other examples of distortions of McCrory data from Boston University researchers to downplay the seriousness of CTE

“I have never seen anyone make the mistakes McCrory made in referring to our research, including members of the media without medical education, bloggers or even non-professionals in their social media accounts,” Novinski wrote.

A spokeswoman for the British Journal of Sports Medicine said the publication was “currently investigating the allegations and will investigate and act accordingly”.

With growing allegations of plagiarism, McCrory resigned this month from the concussion group. Last week, the Australian health regulator admitted that McCrory was banned from performing “neurodiagnostic procedures” in May 2018, without giving a reason. Jess said McCrory examined 10 of his clients after the ban.

McCrory’s employer, the Flory Institute, said in a statement that his articles were published in 2005 before he joined the institute, but that the institute “addresses all issues of scientific integrity with the utmost seriousness”. A spokeswoman declined to say whether McCrory would be punished.

FIFA and World Rugby spokesmen said they were reconsidering their relationship with the concussion group. The Australian Football League no longer has official ties to McCrory, but is still working with three of McCrory’s allies, who also signed the latest consensus statement. The league did not respond to a request for comment.

Jiri Dvorak, a former chief physician at FIFA and a founding member of the concussion group, said the group would continue its work for the time being “and focus on the scientific content of the consensus conference” to be held in Amsterdam this autumn.

The plagiarism allegations are the most serious, undermining McCrory’s credibility over the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head and CTE, and some say they could force sports organizations to reconsider the guidelines he and other doctors in the group have set out.

“There is an internal conspiracy that the consensus statement respects,” said Stephen Casper, who has written about the history of head injuries in sports, was an expert witness for former NHL players in a concussion lawsuit and is a witness in the NCAA case. rugby league and rugby union. “All authors will have the McCrory stain.”

However, the revision of the concussion group will be difficult because it has been supported from the beginning by organizations that see head trauma as an existential threat. The group is not an independent body with open elections or rotation of experts, and even with McCrory’s departure, many of his allies remain, who have also advised, worked or received research grants from FIFA, the IOC, the NFL, the NHL and others. organizations.

However, some members see a chance for the group to become more transparent about potential conflicts of interest, to answer questions publicly about its findings, and to include the views of neurologists, public health professionals and epidemiologists who better reflect CTE science.

“Since Paul is no longer a member of the group, the opportunity is there,” said Robert Cantou, a member of the group and a clinical professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

Bachinski signed an editorial in the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics in 2021, calling for the concussion group to become more transparent. She argues that severing ties with the sports organizations that fund the group is also crucial.

As an example, she said: “We in public health have a really strict rule that we will not adopt our health care guidelines from a Philip Morris-funded health organization” on tobacco.

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