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A senior Croatian academic and obstetrician has escaped punishment over allegations of plagiarism in his published work by Zagreb University's “court of honour” because the alleged offences took place some years ago and he retired in August.
The allegations against Asim Kurjak were originally made in the BMJ by Iain Chalmers of the James Lind Library in Oxford last year (2006;333:594-6 doi: 10.1136/bmj.38968.611296.F7).
In the late 1980s Dr Chalmers noticed that the text and data in a 1974 paper on epidural anaesthesia, coauthored by Professor Kurjak, were identical to those in a paper by another group of authors that had been published three years earlier.
He reported his observations to the editor concerned and to Professor Kurjak's university. Both asked for the matter to be handled discreetly.
But 14 years later Dr Chalmers was prompted to write the BMJ article when he discovered that Professor Kurjak had continued to plagiarise. A report in 2002 showed that he had taken material from a Norwegian doctoral thesis and published it as a chapter in a book on fetal neurology under his own name.
This week the University of Zagreb's court of honour admitted that Professor Kurjak had behaved unethically in writing both articles, but judged that the apologies submitted to those concerned were “adequate measures, concordant with the common practice for the breaches of the Code of Teachers' Ethics.”
Since Professor Kurjak retired from the university on 13 September, before the case was heard on 25 October, the court of honour decided that the case should be dismissed.
Dr Chalmers said, “This is a sad day for Croatian scientists who wish to promote honesty and to outlaw misconduct and cronyism within academia. The leadership of the medical school has made clear that honest Croatian scientists cannot depend on them to take proven scientific misconduct seriously.”
Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ, commented, “Until the dean of Zagreb's medical school, Nada Cikes, shows that she takes Kurjak's offences seriously, the scientific integrity of the whole institution is in question and a cloud will remain over Croatia's research community” (BMJ 2007;335:10 Nov [editor's choice] doi: 10.1136/bmj.39392.602523.47).