Last week, we reported that Craig Hill, a prominent chemist at Emory University, and his colleagues at six other institutions are retracting three papers they published in the mid-2000s, two in the Journal of the American Chemical Society and one in Science.
We have now spoken with Hill, who walked us through the history of the research. According to Hill, the international team of researchers, after “unusually extensive experiments” felt they had enough evidence to publish their original articles
but all authors (and others) remained skeptical given the unprecedented nature of these compounds.
Hill’s lab continued to conduct experiments and probe the original data after the publications, he said. (Hill wrote a piece for Nature in 2008 explaining the significance of the research, which, among other things, might lead to better ways of harnessing solar energy.)
About a year and a half ago, we got we a result that was not compatible with the original papers. We did additional experiments, contacted the rest of the team, and everybody agreed with our new formulation of these compounds based on the new data.
Of course, Hill and his colleagues wanted to publish their new findings, but that raised the question of what to do about the existing papers. After speaking with the editors of JACS and Science, the researchers agreed that retraction would be the cleanest solution despite the fact that all the data in the original papers are correct.
All the data were in the original papers are 100% correct. The only error was in the interpretation. As a consequence of having zero bad science, we didn’t have to withdraw these papers. However, the JACS Editor and we felt it was best to retract them for 2 reasons: (1) we are publishing a new paper with much new data in it and the new paper summarizes the data in the earlier manuscripts; (2) I don’t want to be replying to newcomers to this field for the next 10 years or more who that don’t know this history. That’s what would happen if we kept the original papers in published status.
The new article is the paper in Inorganic Chemistry that is cited in the JACS retraction notices
, but which still doesn’t seem to have gone live [updated 6/18/12]. We’ve asked the journal’s editor for the link, and will update when we hear back. In the meantime, said Hill:
This is really an example of science working. I spoke with all the people involved with the papers and also non-author colleagues and they’ve all strongly concurred with that. It’s really the system working.
We did wonder about one thing, though: If all the data in the old papers were correct, would the new publication refer to them in any way even though the papers were retracted?
Hill said he had the same question.
The editors thought the new manuscript and associated information would take care of this. So I haven’t worried further about it.
Still, it does raise an interesting issue: If a paper is retracted but the data are presumed to be intact, should the researchers reference it with some sort of asterisk-like notation?
Extra: Chemical & Engineering News weighed in on the retractions today.