Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see fraud in sexual selection infanticide commentary
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This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors.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.)
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