Today, without us having planned it, has become the day of retracted papers that found a new home.
This morning, we posted an item about a chimp “culture” paper that was retracted from Biology Letters after its authors found some errors, and then published, with corrections, in the Journal of Human Evolution. This afternoon, we bring you the news of a PLoS ONE paper on longevity genes that is the corrected version of a Science paper retracted last year:
After online publication of our report “Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans” (1) we discovered that technical errors in the Illumina 610 array and an inadequate quality control protocol introduced false positive single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in our findings. An independent laboratory subsequently performed stringent quality control measures, ambiguous SNPs were then removed, and resultant genotype data were validated using an independent platform. We then reanalyzed the reduced data set using the same methodology as in the published paper. We feel the main scientific findings remain supported by the available data: (i) A model consisting of multiple specific SNPs accurately differentiates between centenarians and controls; (ii) genetic profiles cluster into specific signatures; and (iii) signatures are associated with ages of onset of specific age-related diseases and subjects with the oldest ages. However, the specific details of the new analysis change substantially from those originally published online to the point of becoming a new report. Therefore, we retract the original manuscript and will pursue alternative publication of the new findings.
Science, in an accompanying statement at the time, emphasized
that there was no misconduct by Sebastiani and colleagues. The researchers worked exhaustively to correct the errors in the original paper and we regret that the outcome of the extensive revision and re-review process was not more favorable.
The new paper, by Boston University’s Thomas Perls, Paola Sebastiani, and colleagues, “Genetic Signatures of Exceptional Longevity in Humans,” concludes that
90% of centenarians can be grouped into clusters characterized by different ‘‘genetic signatures’’ of varying predictive values for exceptional longevity.
The Sebastiani-Perls group has published two papers since the Science retraction; today’s is the third. One, Perls told Retraction Watch, “Health Span Approximates Life Span Among Many Supercentenarians: Compression of Morbidity at the Approximate Limit of Life Span,” published in the Journals of Gerontology Series A, indicated
…that people who live to 110+ years on average compress the time they experience illness into about the last 5% of their lives. This supports the compression of morbidity hypothesis.. that is, that as a member of a species approaches the limit of life span, it necessarily has to compress the time they are sick towards the very end of their life. Along these lines we found the supercentenarians to be quite homogeneous and this is consistent with our finding in the genetic signatures paper that there is a strong genetic component to achieving these ages.
In the other, “Whole genome sequences of a male and female supercentenarian, ages greater than 114 years,” published in Frontiers in Genetics of Aging,
…the whole genome sequencing for two people over the age of 114 years, we found functional variants for a number of the genes that are part of the model that predicts exceptional longevity in the paper coming out this afternoon.
Unlike the paper we covered this morning, today’s new study does not cite the now-retracted paper that preceded it. We asked whether the authors had considered doing so:
…it frankly did not occur to me to do so (nor did any reviewer or editor suggest it). Afterall, it seems to me that it was Science’s intention to erase the paper we submitted to them from the scientific record as if it never existed so that we could publish it elsewhere… thus, what would be the purpose of citing the retraction? I do know that the current editor’s goal was to obtain as much of an unbiased review as possible, having the current paper reviewed for its current merit, independent of any history.
Fair enough, and that logic makes sense. There’s no official obligation to cite a paper you’ve retracted. At the same time, we’d argue that it was precisely because the previous paper had issues that reviewers and readers would want to know about it. Showing a particular thread of research as it progresses is, after all, consistent with the self-correcting nature of science.
Update, 11:15 p.m. Eastern, 1/18/12: The PLoS ONE editors wrote a blog post about the paper. It concludes:
While we recognize that aspects of this study will attract attention owing to the history and the strong claims made in the paper, the handling editor, Greg Gibson, made the decision that publication is warranted, balancing the extensive peer review and the spirit of PLoS ONE to allow important new results and approaches to be available to the scientific community so long as scientific standards have been met. We trust that publication will facilitate full evaluation of the study.