The journal Blood has retracted a paper from a group of prestigious Harvard researchers after the article, which appeared in January 2011, was found to have multiple instances of material — text, data and other elements — that had appeared in a previous publication from several of the authors.
The article was titled “Cannabinoid receptor 2 and its agonists mediate hematopoiesis and hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell mobilization.” Its authors included Hava Avraham, a noted cancer researcher, and Jerome Groopman, known for his New Yorker articles about medicine and, scientifically, for his work on cannabinoids and cancer, among other areas.
According to the retraction notice:
The authors and the journal wish to retract the 20 January 2011 paper cited above, since it contains multiple instances of duplicate (redundant) publication of data, text, and images that are nonessential to the paper. The redundancies are between the above-cited Blood article and the following 12 November 2010 article, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC): Jiang S, Zagozdzon R, Jorda MA, et al. Endocannabinoids are expressed in bone marrow stromal niches and play a role in interactions of hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells with the bone marrow microenvironment. J Biol Chem. 2010;285(46):35471-35478.
The authors apologize to the readers, reviewers, and editors of both journals for publishing duplicate data.
We reached the first author, Shuxian Jiang, in Avraham’s lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, but she referred us to Avraham, who was not immediately available for comment. Jiang did tell us that she worked on the materials and methods section of the article, but not the discussion. We also tried Groopman and Blood editor Cynthia Dunbar, and will update with anything we hear back.
The notion of “nonessential” data, text and images is worth a visit. First, if the information truly is nonessential, why not leave it out entirely? Maybe it wasn’t quite nonessential, but somewhat less essential than the really essential stuff. In which case, well, you get the point.
But, taking the authors at their word, if the duplicated/redundant/reused material really didn’t serve as more than padding, is retraction the right response? We might be tempted by the argument that duplication of material that’s not important to the core of a paper shouldn’t merit retraction at all, but rather some intermediate step like a prominent caveat.
We heard from Harvard this morning–sort of. Here’s Randy Mason, a research integrity official at Beth Israel:
When the matter related to Blood was brought to our attention, we initiated a review process in accordance with both our institutional policy and federal regulations. The details on any ongoing review are confidential.
Mason did not reply immediately to a followup email, so what follows is speculation. But the remarks suggest the possibility that government money might have been misused. We will update this post when we have learned more.
Retraction Watch readers, what do you think?