Soon after Retraction Watch launched, one of our readers posed an important question: How should researchers note that their papers have been retracted?
The question is important mostly for transparency reasons. (We’ve also wondered, however, whether authors whose papers have been retracted because of journal office errors should be forced to list those.) Should they remove any reference to retracted papers? Leave them, but mark them as retracted?
With that in mind, two examples. First, Raphael Stricker, of Union Square Medical Associates, an internist in San Francisco who specializes in treating chronic Lyme Disease. Chronic Lyme is a controversial diagnosis, to say the least, which explains why Stricker’s practice does not take insurance or Medicare and links to this explanation. In a recent survey published in the Journal of Pediatrics, half of Connecticut physicians said they didn’t think chronic Lyme exists, and 48 percent said they were unsure. Stricker took issue with that survey in a subsequent letter.
And he has also published at least one paper on the even more controversial Morgellon’s Disease, in which patients allege they have microscopic fibers coming out of their skin. The CDC is investigating the condition after pressure from patient groups, but doctors seem to universally think it has psychiatric roots.
The reason we were interested in Stricker’s work was that he lists a now-retracted 1985 New England Journal of Medicine paper on his online CV without any acknowledgment it was retracted. So we wanted to know why.
Here’s what Stricker told Retraction Watch by email:
I appreciate your interest in this topic. You undoubtedly know that I was the first author on the retracted NEJM paper. You also know that I did not sign the retraction letter. In fact, I vehemently opposed the retraction, sending two rebuttal letters to the NEJM editors, who refused to publish them.
Over the 20+ years since this process occurred, there have been three significant developments. First, two research groups independently confirmed the basic findings in the retracted paper. Second, it became clear that the retraction was a politically-motivated process. In a nutshell, my research findings were being used by certain scientists to argue that HIV is not the cause of AIDS. Although I had no part in this debate, UCSF was extremely embarassed by it and obviously wanted to discredit my work. Third, I have learned that the university threatened my coauthors if they refused to sign the retraction letter. Believe me, there is nothing scarier than going up against UCSF.
For these reasons I have ignored the politically motivated, bogus retraction of the NEJM article. There is much more to the story, but I think that those details are better left wrapped in the cobwebs of time.
There is much more to the story, as Stricker notes. The NEJM retraction followed an investigation by the Office of Research Integrity. In their 1995 final report, ORI wrote:
An investigation conducted by the University found that Dr. Stricker falsified data for a manuscript and a PHS-supported publication reporting research on AIDS. In the manuscript, Dr. Stricker selectively suppressed data that did not support his hypothesis, and reported consistently positive data whereas only one of four experiments had produced positive results. In the publication, Dr. Stricker reported that an antibody was found in 29 of 30 homosexuals, but not found in non-homosexuals. However, Dr. Stricker’s control data, which he suppressed, showed the antibody in 33 of 65 non-homosexuals. The falsified data was used as the basis for a grant application to the National Institutes of Health. The ORI concurred in the University’s finding. Dr. Stricker executed a Voluntary Exclusion and Settlement Agreement in which he has agreed not to apply for Federal grant or contract funds and will not serve on PHS advisory committees, boards or peer review groups for a three year period beginning April 1, 1993. The publication “Target platelet antigen in homosexual men with immune thrombocytopenia” in the New England Journal of Medicine, 313: 1315-1380, 1985 has been retracted (New England Journal of Medicine, 325: 1487,1991).
Now compare Stricker’s approach to that of Larry Pease, a Mayo Clinic immunologist. As the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported last year, Pease’s lab was investigated by the Mayo because one of his post-docs, Suresh Radhakrishnan, was “accused of tampering with other scientists’ attempts to duplicate his results.”
A number of papers co-authored by Pease and Radhakrishnan have since been retracted. And you won’t have to dig far at all to find that out. Right on Pease’s faculty profile page — not even buried on a CV — is this:
After years of investigation, we learned our IgM antibody studies were compromised (refer to: Pease LR; Retraction. Induction of a gene expression program in dendritic cells with a cross-linking IgM antibody to the co-stimulatory molecule B7-DC. FASEBJ 2010;24:2135-2136).
After an extensive re-examination of the studies, the work on the immune modulatory properties of this IgM antibody have been stopped, and the related manuscripts retracted.
Now that’s transparency.
So what do Retraction Watch readers think? Should retracted papers show up on a CV? And if so, should they be marked? Take our poll: