Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Weekend reads: What really happened in that lab?; best excuses for falsifying data and rejecting grants

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booksThe week at Retraction Watch featured the correction of a widely covered study claiming to find evidence of the plague and anthrax on New York City subways, and rulings against scientists suing Harvard, a journal, and the CBC. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 1st, 2015 at 10:41 am

Posted in weekend reads

Plague or anthrax on the subway? Think again, says now-corrected study

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Cell SystemsAuthors of a widely covered study that documented traces of plague and anthrax on surfaces across New York City have revised the paper after public health officials challenged their interpretations of the data.

It’s hard to overestimate the attention these findings received when first published.

Bubonic plague found in NYC subway,” wrote The Daily Beast.

Your subway seat mate: Bubonic plague, anthrax, & mysterious DNA,” said Yahoo!

NY subway has bubonic plague,” declared Newser.

Not so fast. In an erratum published July 29, the authors write: Read the rest of this entry »

Nutrition researcher Chandra loses libel case against CBC

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CBCThe self-proclaimed “father of nutritional immunology,” Ranjit Kumar Chandra, has lost a libel lawsuit against the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC).

The suit was in response to a 2006 three-part documentary from the CBC, which examined allegations of fraud against the former Memorial University researcher.

After the 58-day trial, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice “ruled in favour of CBC, on the grounds that the words in the broadcast were true,” according to CBC producer Lynn Burgess: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shannon Palus

July 31st, 2015 at 10:21 am

Inquiry into duplications reveals “multiple” image problems in tumor study

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STEM_17_1.c1.inddA paper on how abnormal stem cells can cause benign bone tumors has been retracted by Cell Stem Cell after an inquiry into image duplications also uncovered “multiple instances of inappropriate western blot image adjustment.”

The first two authors “declined” to sign the retraction, according to the notice.

Besides confirming initial suspicions that images had been duplicated, the editors also found “multiple instances of inappropriate western blot image adjustment, such as uneven compression of images and removal of background elements:”

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Golden rice paper pulled after judge rules for journal

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home_coverThe American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is retracting a paper that showed genetically engineered rice serves as an effective vitamin A supplement after a Massachusetts judge denied the first author’s motion for an injunction against the publisher.

The journal announced plans to retract the paper last year following allegations that the paper contained ethical mis-steps, such as not getting informed consent from the parents of children eating the rice, and faking ethics approval documents.

Last July, first author Guangwen Tang at Tufts University filed a complaint and motion for preliminary injunction against the journal’s publisher, the American Society for Nutrition, to stop the retraction.

According to the ASN, on July 17, a Massachusetts Superior Court “cleared the way” for the publisher to retract the paper. So they have, as of July 29. Here’s more from the retraction notice:

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NYT journalist: I am not a neutral observer–can I still be a fair reporter?

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Tracy Tullis

Tracy Tullis

We present a guest post from Tracy Tullis, author of a recent story in the New York Times that — as we reported — the editors said afterwards they “would not have assigned” to her if they’d known about her “involvement in a cause related to news coverage.” This is her side of the story.

Last month I wrote a story for The New York Times called “The Loneliest Elephant,” about an elephant named Happy who has been kept alone at the Bronx Zoo for the past nine years. Animal welfare groups say she should be released to a wildlife sanctuary where she could have the companionship of other elephants; the Bronx Zoo says she’s fine where she is.

The day after the article was published in the Sunday paper, The Times learned I had signed an online petition in support of sending the elephant to a sanctuary (I signed it last April, three weeks before I pitched the article). As Retraction Watch has reported, The Times added an editor’s note to the online version of the article, explaining that signing the petition was “at odds with The Times’s journalistic standards.”

The New York Times Ethical Journalism handbook, which I received six months ago when I wrote my first freelance article for The Times, warns that writers should do nothing that “might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or The Times’s ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news”: no donations to political candidates, no marches or rallies, no buttons or bumper stickers. The handbook doesn’t mention petitions, physical or digital (it was published in 2004, before clickable appeals became commonplace), but it makes sense that signing them would likewise be considered a violation.

There’s a backstory, though, as I suppose there always is. When Retraction Watch asked if I would be interested in telling it, however, I hesitated. My inclination was to curse my mistake, apologize privately to my editor (which I have done), and put it all behind me. But I think the incident raises pertinent questions about how media organizations handle issues of neutrality—and about what happens when the institutions they cover critically accuse writers of bias. And so I agreed to write this. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

July 30th, 2015 at 11:30 am

Voinnet notches second retraction, two more corrections

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PNASOlivier Voinnet — a plant researcher who was recently suspended for two years from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) after an investigation by ETH Zurich and CNRS found evidence of misconduct — has issued his second retraction and two more corrections.

PNAS posted the retraction earlier this week for a 2006 article after an inspection of the raw data revealed “errors” in study images. Authors confirmed the issues in some figures and revealed “additional mounting mistakes” in others.

Voinnet has promised to issue retractions and corrections for every study that requires them. These latest notices bring our tally up to nine corrections, two retractions and one Expression of Concern.

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Judge dismisses cardiac stem cell researchers’ lawsuit against Harvard

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Piero Anversa

Piero Anversa

A Massachusetts judge has dismissed a lawsuit by researchers who argued that an investigation by Harvard cost them job offers.

Last year, Piero Anversa, a stem cell researcher at the Brigham & Women’s Hospital, and a colleague, Annarosa Leri, sued Harvard over an investigation into their work that they claim damaged their reputations: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

July 29th, 2015 at 2:30 pm

Author disputes retraction of pine needle paper published “without the knowledge” of all authors

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Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 1.16.27 PM

The properties of pine needles in northwestern China differ — both inside and out — depending on where on the slope of a mountain they are situated. The properties of a recent paper on this phenomenon have recently changed from “published” to “retracted.”

It appears that some of the authors didn’t realize it had been submitted to The Scientific World Journal. The paper has not been cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Here’s the notice:
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Retracting duplicated paper “may damage the integrity of the literature,” says plant journal editor

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In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology - PlantIn Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology – Plant has flagged a 2004 article that was “accidentally” duplicated from another paper published earlier that year — but did so in the form of a publisher’s erratum, not a retraction.

The editor of the journal justified the decision by arguing that the duplicated paper had been cited “over a dozen times” and was old enough to not warrant a retraction:

Considering that both articles were published over a decade ago and both have been referenced by other papers over a dozen times each, it seems like a retraction of one manuscript may damage the integrity of the literature more than using the erratum to point out the error to future scientists.

The study, “In vitro shoot regeneration from cotyledonary node explants of a multipurpose leguminous tree, Pterocarpus marsupium roxb,” developed a protocol for effectively growing shoots of the Indian Kino tree.

The first version has been cited 21 times and the duplicated version was cited 13 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s the notice:

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