Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“A gut-wrenching experience:” Authors retract, replace JAMA paper

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When economist Jason Hockenberry looked at data comparing some of the financial issues facing different U.S. hospitals, he was surprised by what he saw.

Hockenberry was examining the effects of a recently introduced U.S. program that penalizes hospitals with relatively high rates of readmissions for certain conditions by reducing Medicare payments. Although Hockenberry expected hospitals that serve low-income and uninsured patients to have more readmissions (and therefore more penalties), he saw these so-called “safety-net hospitals” had been steadily improving their performance since the program began in 2012, and had faced fewer penalties over time.

The results were so striking, they ended up in JAMA on April 18, 2017. But within one week after publication, Hockenberry learned outside researchers had raised questions about the analysis.

The outside researchers thought the authors had incorrectly categorized some of the safety-net hospitals. After looking into their concerns, Hockenberry — based at Emory University in Atlanta — realized the analysis did contain errors that affect the findings. This week, he and his co-authors retracted the article, replacing it with a corrected version. The new paper still reports that the gap between the penalties faced by safety-net and non-safety-net hospitals is closing — but not for the reasons they initially thought.  

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Surgery journal retracts two papers it didn’t mean to publish

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The Annals of Surgery has retracted two papers it never intended to publish.

According to journal’s editor, Keith Lillemoe, the papers—published in 2015, two months apart—had undergone full peer review and were rejected, “like 90% of submissions to our journal:”

The decision was clear and the authors were notified.

But somehow, Lillemoe said, “our publishing team mistakenly published the papers and placed them into [e-pub] status totally unbeknownst to the editorial team.”

The authors of one paper told us they were unhappy with how the journal handled the situation.

Lillemoe noted:

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Journal republishes withdrawn paper on emergency care prices, amid controversy

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The Annals of Emergency Medicine has republished a controversial paper it withdrew earlier this year which compared the cost of emergency care at different types of facilities.

Because the paper drew heavy criticism when it was originally released, the journal has published a revised version, along with several editorials and discussions between the authors and critics. One point of contention: The analysis stems from data provided by an insurance company — Blue Cross Blue Shield — which it declined to share.

The paper — originally published in February —  caught national attention (and raised concerns among some emergency care providers) when it reported the cost of treatment in emergency departments can be significantly higher than at urgent care centers, even for the same conditions. The journal withdrew the paper in spring, and re-published it Tuesday, with minor changes.

First author Vivian Ho at Rice University told us she made “slight changes”  to some headings, phrases, and the appendix, but:

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“Devastating:” Authors retract paper in Nature journal upon discovering error

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Several years ago, Chris Dames thought he had made an exciting discovery, a “secret sauce” that would allow him to design a device using a novel mechanism.

In a 2014 Nature Communications paper, Dames—who works at the University of California at Berkeley—and his team described the first experimental results for the device, a photon thermal diode. A thermal diode conducts heat in one direction but not in the other, and in theory, could have broad applications—for example, provide barriers that shield buildings from excess heat or use heat to power computers.

But two years later, in August 2016, a colleague thought he had discovered a fundamental error in the design of the experiments. Bair Budaev, who also works at the University of California at Berkeley, believed that the authors made a “a fundamental symmetry error” which invalidated their results. Read the rest of this entry »

Another retraction hits high-profile food researcher under fire

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Brian Wansink

It’s been a rough year for Brian Wansink.

Last year, the prominent food researcher posted a blog praising a student for her productivity in his lab. But when Wansink described his methods, readers became concerned that the lab was using improper research techniques to generate more publications. Earlier this year, researchers posted an analysis of four papers by Wansink about pizza consumption to PeerJ, saying they discovered more than 150 inconsistencies in the data. Now, one of those four papers has been retracted.

On Friday, BMC Nutrition posted a brief notice about the 2015 paper, which examined whether people who pay different amounts for all-you-can-eat Italian buffets feel more or less guilty about how much they ate. The notice says the retraction stems from concerns about the data analysis, and the authors do not agree with the journal’s decision.

The new retraction is the second for Wansink, director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell.

Here’s the complete retraction notice:

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Written by Alison McCook

September 19th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Article defending colonialism draws rebuke, journal defends choice to publish

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Facing a volley of criticism for publishing an essay that called for a return to colonialism, a journal editor has defended his decision to print the article.

The Case for Colonialism,” published Sept. 8 in Third World Quarterly (TWQ), was written by Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. For an idea of what the piece was about, here’s the beginning of the abstract:

For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts.

Since the essay came out, scholars have criticized both the article itself and the journal’s decision to publish it. Several critics have called for retraction. [Update: 15 members of the editorial board have resigned in response.]

One group of critics wrote that they objected to the essay because:

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Written by Andrew P. Han

September 19th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Post-publication peer review in action: Science flags paper just days after publication

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Science has issued an expression of concern for a widely covered materials science paper published on Friday, citing issues with the supplementary data.

The paper — which caught the attention of multiple news outlets — added properties to cotton fibers in vitro, potentially enabling researchers to manufacture fabric that can fluoresce or carry magnetic properties.

The move to issue an expression of concern was unusually quick. According to the journal, an expert who received the paper from a journalist under a media embargo contacted Science to flag issues in some of the supplementary data. At the time of this post, the paper does not yet have an entry on PubPeer.

Here’s the full expression of concern:

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Stem cell scientist appealing dismissal loses another paper

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Susana Gonzalez

A once-prominent stem cell biologist, who recently lost both her job and a sizable grant, has lost her fifth paper.

Recently, Molecular and Cellular Biology retracted a 2003 paper by Susana Gonzalez. Last February, the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Spain dismissed her from her position over allegations of misconduct. The reason: suspicions of data manipulation.

As with a previous retraction, the journal said Gonzalez “could not be reached for approval of this retraction.”  

Here’s the full notice:

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Weekend reads: Fired for fake peer review; world’s most prolific fraudster; peer reviewers behaving badly?

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The week at Retraction Watch featured a post on just how much an authorship costs if you want to buy one, anger over charges to use a common research tool, and the revocation of a PhD from a once-rising star scientist. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 16th, 2017 at 9:38 am

Posted in weekend reads

Project to “fact check” genetic studies leads to three more retractions. And it’s just getting started.

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Jennifer Byrne

A project to identify studies doomed by problematic reagents has triggered three more retractions, bringing the total to five.

Jennifer Byrne, a scientist at the University of Sydney, who developed the the idea of double-checking the nucleic acid sequences of research materials — thereby ensuring studies were testing the gene in question — told Retraction Watch that all three retractions came after she started emailing journals in January  to alert them to the problems: Read the rest of this entry »