Back in the saddle: After more than 30 retractions, Naoki Mori publishing again
Perhaps it’s appropriate given the Easter season, but we have learned that Naoki Mori, the Japanese cancer researcher who received a 10-year publishing ban from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) for imagine manipulation, has published a new paper.
Mori, who was fired and then rehired by the University of the Ryukyus over the scandal, is listed as the senior author on the paper, “Honokiol induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis via inhibition of survival signals in adult T-cell leukemia,” which appears in the March issue of Biochimica et Biophysica Acta. The journal, an Elsevier title, is an umbrella for nine publications in the biosciences.
Two of Mori’s retracted articles appeared in the Elsevier journals Leukemia Research and Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. Tom Reller, an Elsevier spokesman, said the editor of the journal paid particular attention to the Mori submission but ultimately decided that it looked clean.
We asked the EiC about this, and he says that he was aware of Mori’s previous corrections and retractions. In light of this, apart from the peer reviewers and executive editors assigned to the article, he had an additional careful look at the paper particularly to see if there was any tampering of images, and could find no problems with it.
Mori’s coauthors on the recent paper are
Chihiro SasakawaChie Ishikawa, of the University of the Ryukyus — whose name appeared on a dozen of the retracted publications — and Jack Arbiser, a dermatologic oncologist at Emory University. Arbiser refused to speak with us about the paper or answer questions by email, including whether he was aware of Mori’s retraction history when he agreed to join the manuscript.
So, does the new article mean Mori has been rehabilitated? Ferric Fang, editor of Infection and Immunity, an ASM title which retracted five of Mori’s papers in late 2010, defended the group’s sanction against the researcher:
There is no consensus regarding publication bans for authors who have committed research misconduct. Liz Wager of COPE has argued against publication bans. However ASM journals and others reserve the right to ban authors for specified periods of time in selected cases. This is the most severe penalty in a range of sanctions that may be applied to authors found to have committed data falsification, fabrication or plagiarism. At ASM the decision to impose such a penalty is made on a case-by-case basis after extensive consultation and deliberation. Dr. Mori was found to have committed data manipulation in dozens of papers spanning over more than a decade. At last count, I believe that 30 of his manuscripts have now been retracted by various journals. Such a sustained and systematic pattern of misconduct was felt to warrant a 10-year publication ban.
Despite advances in digital data analytical tools and plagiarism detection software, scientific publication is still heavily dependent on trust. There is a quote attributed to Warren Buffett: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it.” I believe in redemption, but once a scientist has committed fraud, it may be difficult for other scientists to believe what they say in the future.
We too have said that bans are a good idea.