Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see fraud in sexual selection infanticide commentary

without comments

From the, No Further Explanation Required files:

The journal Animal Behaviour has retracted a 2009 article by an international group of researchers who, well, did just about everything one could do wrong with a paper.

Here’s the notice, res ipsa loquitur:

Retraction notice to “Evidence of sexually selected infanticide in an endangered brown bear population” ANBEH 79 (2010) 521–527
Animal Behaviour, Available online 8 September 2011,
Alberto Fernańdez-Gil, Jon E. Swenson, Carlos Granda, Trinidad Pérez, Ana Domínguez, Andrés Ordiz, Javier Naves, Miguel Delibes

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors.

The authors have misappropriated data, plagiarized and concealed the authorship of work that had already appeared in Palomero et al. (2007) Osas, El comportamiento de las osas y sus crías en la Cordillera Cantábrica, Fundación Oso Pardo. Fundación Oso Pardo (FOP) and Fundación Biodiversidad (153 pp. +DVD. ISBN 978-84-612-1173-9). One of the conditions of submission of a paper for publication is that authors declare explicitly that their work is original and has not appeared in a publication elsewhere. Re-use of any data should be appropriately cited. As such this article represents a severe abuse of the scientific publishing system. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not detected during the submission process.

If you’re wondering if “sexually specific infanticide” is about bears who select boy or girl cubs, it isn’t, but the phenomenon is still a good reminder of just how brutal the natural world can be. From the now-retracted paper:

Infanticide, the killing by conspecifics of (usually) unrelated offspring, has been documented in over a hundred species of mammals (Agrell et al. 1998; Ebensperger 1998). Initially, infanticide was considered to be a pathological behaviour, but now it is recognized as an adaptive behaviour that may increase the fitness of the perpetrator (Hrdy 1979; Hausfater & Hrdy 1984). Adults of both sexes can kill unrelated young to exploit them as a food resource (i.e. cannibalism or intraspecific predation). Infanticide by females has been widely documented in mammals (e.g Wolff 1993; Agrell et al. 1998); females could benefit from killing conspecifics’ offspring by reducing competition (present or future) for resources. The killing of unrelated young by males to obtain a mating opportunity with the victimized female, i.e. SSI, seems to be common in mammals when (a) the young are vulnerable and (b) the loss of offspring results in the mother returning to oestrus quickly (Van Noordwijk & van Schaik 2000).

With several authors from many institutions, we’re curious how the fraudulent paper came to being. A global conspiracy seems highly unlikely — which means an, um, lone wolf probably is to blame. But we have tried to reach the editor of the journal to confirm that suspicion.

The commentary has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

(Title of this post is with apologies to Eric Carle.)

Written by amarcus41

September 16th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

  • Bora Zivkovic September 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Was this part: “With several authors from many institutions, we’re curious how the fraudulent paper came to being. A global conspiracy seems highly unlikely — which means an, um, lone wolf probably is to blame. But we have tried to reach the editor of the journal to confirm that suspicion.” supposed to be outside of the quotation marks?

    • ivanoransky September 16, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      Indeed. Fixed — and thanks for the spot, Bora.

  • marcj September 16, 2011 at 11:14 pm

    So, is it that the same authors published the same paper twice, but in different languages? I have to think that’s what’s happened, and not that such a large list of authors worked together to plagiarize a paper by a different group.

    But I’m also puzzled by what “obscured authorship” means.

  • Krishna Pillai September 17, 2011 at 1:48 am

    I see that in Germany, with the Bruno Frey case, that multiple publication of essentially the same material is being called “cloning” rather than self-plagiarisation. I am not sure if this is now becoming an accepted term.
    With Bruno Frey having the same material published in five (!!?) journals (the Titanic papers), new words will be needed for the degree of “cloning”. A few Frey retractions will probably result from the University of Zurich investigation.

  • Norton September 18, 2011 at 12:57 am

    The authors of the retracted paper did not self-plagiarized. They plagiarized the data previously published in Spanish by a rival group of biologists from the Fundación Oso Pardo (Brown Bear Foundation), a wildlife conservation NGO based in Santander (north of Spain). Alberto Fernández-Gil, Miguel Delibes and other co-authors of the retracted paper, from Donana Biological Station, plagiarized the information from the book “Osas. El comportamiento de las osas y sus crías en la Cordillera Cantábrica” (Female bears- The behaviour of the female bears and their cubs in the Cantabrian Mountains), published in 2007 by Guillermo Palomero and other researchers from the Bear Foundation.

  • pvaldes October 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    The problem is a little more complex,

    First of all, we have here a book published in Spanish and an article published few years later in English for entirely different researchers

    The article talks about infanticide in bears focusing in the sex of the dead cubs, and present a last table about the know cases. The book presents several aspects of reproductive biology, and presents also this cases in a very similar format. The biggest problem is mostly with this appendix, apart this, both texts explore more or less deeply different ideas (sharing the same background of course, the reproductive biology of the brown bear in Spain)

    Telling the same cases, both must share several facts and points, but the spanish and english translation are not equal (a point that a non-spanish speaker can miss, cause the format is very similar in both). Each group add or omit several minor facts, some cases are registered in different days (when each group could see the body of the dead cub), and the article present also at least one new recent case.

    One of the more controversial points is that the article say that:

    “no direct field observations of infanticide behaviour are available in the scientific literature”

    that’s a curious asseveration cause they knew that the book was published, they share the same library in the same building and the book itself is cited in the bibliography. They say also that:

    “we reviewed all available bear forms (several thousands), unpublished reports, and necropsy reports of dead cubs from the environmental agencies”

    … and we forget to mention all about a big book available about the same theme?

    The devil is probably in the details here, but this omission at least is very unfortunate

  • pvaldes October 8, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Details like this: The video of a direct field observation of death of two bear cubs by a male bear, This is part of the article, filmed by one of the authors of the article, and not related with the book

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