Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journal knew about problems in a high-profile study before it came out — and did nothing for over a month

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In June, Gene Emery, a journalist for Reuters Health, was assigned to write a story about an upcoming paper in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, set to come off embargo and be released to the public in a few days. Pretty quickly, he noticed something seemed off.

Emery saw that the data presented in the tables of the paper — about awareness of the problem of heart disease among women and their doctors — didn’t seem to match the authors’ conclusions. For instance, on a scale of 1 to 5 rating preparedness to assess female patients’ risk (with 5 being the most prepared), 64% of doctors answered 4 or 5; but the paper said “only a minority” of doctors felt well-prepared (findings echoed in an accompanying press release). On Monday June 19, four days before the paper was set to publish, Emery told the corresponding author — C. Noel Bairey Merz, Medical Director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles — about the discrepancy; she told him to rely on the data in the table.

But the more Emery and his editors looked, the more problems they found with the paper. They alerted the journal hours before it was set to publish, hoping that was enough to halt the process. It wasn’t.

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Curious: A paper’s acknowledgments harshly criticized Spanish gov’t funding. Now two authors object.

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In 2014, researchers condemned the Spanish Government for “destroying the R&D horizon of Spain and the future of a complete generation” in the acknowledgment section of a paper about wireless networks.

Three years later, the two last authors of the paper are protesting that protest, issuing a correction to alert readers that they did not approve the language. Here’s the text of the corrigendum notice, which mentions Juan M. Górriz and Javier Ramírez, both based at University of Granada: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

August 18th, 2017 at 8:15 am

Recent finding of misconduct by federal U.S. agency sparks debate

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Nasser Chegini

In 2011, the University of Florida assembled a misconduct report about one of its ob-gyn researchers, identifying falsified data in a 2010 paper. But when an investigator at the U.S. Office of Research Integrity reviewed the report, something didn’t feel right.

“I reviewed the data, and I thought [UF] didn’t do their due diligence,” said Kristen Grace, then an ORI investigator, now heading up the compliance department of the Office of Clinical Research at the University of Pennsylvania. “Because the extent of the the falsification was so great.”

So the ORI asked the UF to re-open its investigation, expanding it to include previous years of work by Nasser Chegini, now retired. The institution also hired a new director of research compliance, who oversaw the second investigation. That report, completed in October 2013, was significantly more extensive — it documented intentional falsifications or fabrications in nine papers published between 2003-2008. (Through a public records request, we obtained a copy of this second report, which you can read in full here.) But last month, the ORI issued a finding of misconduct against Chegini that focused on only one paper; the agency said it chose to take a “targeted approach,” since eight of the nine papers had already been retracted.  

The move has prompted a debate — while some argue it’s a pragmatic use of ORI’s limited resources, others (including Grace) are concerned:

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Written by Alison McCook

August 17th, 2017 at 11:13 am

Lost citation snuffs out Aussie fire paper

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A journal has retracted a 2016 paper on wildfires in Australia because the authors neglected to cite earlier work — an unintentional lapse, they said.

The article, “Projected changes in Australian fire regimes during the 21st century and consequences for Ecosystems,” appeared in the International Journal of Wildland Fire. The authors are Sandy Harrison and Douglas Kelley,  of the University of Reading, in the UK. Kelley appears to have done his share of the work as a PhD student at Macquarie University in Australia.

According to the notice: Read the rest of this entry »

When a journal retracts 107 papers for fake reviews, it pays a price

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A company that indexes journals — thereby assigning them impact factors — has chosen to delist a cancer journal after it retracted 107 papers earlier this year for faked peer reviews.

Starting July 19, anything published by Tumor Biology will not be indexed in Web of Science, part of Clarivate Analytics (formerly part of Thomson Reuters). Clarivate told us the decision was based on the fake reviews that took down more than 100 papers earlier this year. The problematic papers were released while the journal was published by Springer, not its current publisher, SAGE.

Without being indexed by Web of Science, Tumor Biology will lack an impact factor — which can be the kiss of death for many journals, since researchers (and institutions) often count on such metrics when applying for grants and promotions, so many will not submit work to a journal without one.

Here’s the statement from a Clarivate spokesperson [their emphasis]:

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Written by Alison McCook

August 16th, 2017 at 11:30 am

Genetic disorder gets name change, but patient’s father still not happy

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Credit: Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man

The leading genetic disease database has chosen a new name for a genetic condition, following complaints from a man whose son has the condition.

On Aug. 11, 2017, two days after our coverage of the situation, the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) database changed the primary name of the phenotype associated with mutations in the RPS23 gene. The new name describes a set of features: “Brachycephaly, Trichomegaly, and Developmental Delay,” or BTDD.

Brachycephaly describes a condition where the back of the head is abnormally flat and trichomegaly refers to extra length, curling, pigmentation, or thickness of the eyelashes.

Marc Pieterse, of the Netherlands, has a son with the rare RPS23 mutation, one of two known patients in the world. The mutation affects ribosomes, cell components involved in protein production. On Aug. 9, we reported on Pieterse’s crusade against OMIM’s original name for the condition, which dubbed it a syndrome. He has feared that calling it a syndrome would “stigmatize” his son’s condition and tried to get the paper underpinning the OMIM entry retracted. The American Journal of Human Genetics has said it will not retract the paper.

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Written by Andrew P. Han

August 16th, 2017 at 9:55 am

“The paper is extremely flawed:” Journal retracts article linked to vaccines

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A journal has retracted a 2016 paper after receiving criticism from outside researchers who raised concerns about its methodology and data.

The paper shares multiple authors with another paper that linked the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) to behavioral problems in mice. Last year, a journal removed the study; later that year, the authors published a revised version in another journal. The latest retracted paper focuses on the antibodies present in a form of lupus.

Yehuda Shoenfeld at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, the corresponding author on both this latest retraction and the HPV vaccine paper, recently edited a textbook that explored how vaccines can induce autoimmunity in some people.  He told us the 2016 lupus paper does have a link to vaccines [his emphasis]:

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What should journals do when peer reviewers do not disclose potential conflicts?

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Peer reviewers, like authors, are supposed to declare any potential conflicts of interest. But what happens when they don’t?

Take this case: In a court transcript from Feb. 23, 2017, Bryan Hardin testified that he was a peer reviewer on a 2016 paper in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, which found that asbestos does not increase the risk of cancer. In the deposition, Hardin—who works at the consulting firm Veritox—also said that he has testified in asbestos litigation on behalf of automakers, such as Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, but said he had not disclosed these relationships to the journal.

Last year, the first author of the 2016 review withdrew a paper from another journal (by the same publisher) which concluded asbestos roofing products are safe, following several criticisms — including not disclosing the approving editor’s ties to the asbestos industry. In this latest case, the journal told us it believes the review process for the paper was up to snuff, but two outside experts we consulted said they believed Hardin’s relationships — and failure to disclose them — should give the journal pause.

We obtained a copy of the transcript from Christian Hartley, who was representing a man suing a mining company because the man developed cancer after being exposed to asbestos at work. When Hartley asked Hardin whether he had told the journal about testifying for companies involved in asbestos litigation, Hardin responded:

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Journal corrects paper by researcher sanctioned for misconduct

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A biology journal has issued a correction to a 2014 paper by a researcher with 11 retractions, citing “inadvertent errors” that don’t affect the conclusions.

The researcher, Rony Seger, was recently sanctioned by his institution (The Weizmann Institute in Israel) following a finding of “serious misconduct” involving data manipulation. Specifically, the institute barred him from supervising graduate students, even future ones; his lab is now dedicated to replicating his previous work, with the help of a technician.

Last month, Michal Neeman, vice president of The Weizmann Institute of Science, told us she wasn’t sure how many additional papers by Seger would need to be retracted or corrected.

Recently, one more was revealed — in the August issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the following correction notice appears:

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Weekend reads: Predatory fraud; risky spreadsheets; how to report issues in a paper

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The week at Retraction Watch featured a look at publishing bounties around the world, and the story of how the “right to be forgotten” law had led to a retraction. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 12th, 2017 at 9:00 am

Posted in weekend reads