Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Wham, bam, no thank you, ram: Publisher error leads to retraction of already-withdrawn sheep sperm paper

without comments

Caution: Sexual innuendo ahead.

The withdrawal method is a notoriously unreliable form of birth control. It seems that what happens between the sheets applies to paper as well as cotton.

Here’s a retraction notice from BMC Research Notes that speaks — and nudges and winks — for itself. The 2011 article, “Effect of controlled and uncontrolled cooling rate on motility parameters of cryopreserved ram spermatozoa,” by a team of Irani veterinary scientists:

has been retracted at the request of the Editor. Although the authors withdrew their submission in order to publish elsewhere, the article was subsequently transmitted to the journal’s production department which resulted in it being published in error.

These ram sperm appear to get around, though. We found a similarly (nearly identically) titled paper — “Effect of Controlled and Uncontrolled Rate of Cooling, Prior to Controlled Rate of Freezing, on Motion Characteristics and Acrosomal Integrity of Cryopreserved Ram Spermatozoa” — from 2008 in Biopreservation and Biobanking, from a group of authors in India.

Written by amarcus41

June 28th, 2012 at 9:30 am

  • Aminu June 28, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Does sheep has sperm as it appeared in the title of the retraction notice?

  • D G Rossiter June 28, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    I enjoyed the clever headline and the story, however, get your facts straight on coitus interruptus. It is 100% effective if used by a responsible male with proper control. This was called “being careful” back in the day, and was responsible for the alarming (to the Church) fall in conceptions in late-Empire France.

    • Noah June 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm


      My understanding is that pre-ejaculate contains sperm, and therefore “pulling out” is not 100% effective.

      • D G Rossiter June 29, 2012 at 5:35 am

        Pre-ejaculate has dead/disabled sperm and in very low concentrations.

        A good popular discussion of this is in, they cite the relevant studies.

        It worries the contraceptionists because (1) no revenue from condoms or pills (2) certaintly in the wrong “hands” it will fail [poor control] (3) obviously no protection against VD.

        The “pre-ejaculate can get you pregnant” is of the same status as “spinach has massive doses of iron”, both based on flawed studies that have been repeatedly discredited, but there are interests in keeping the myths alive.

      • Noah June 29, 2012 at 7:37 am

        Ack, this is what the article says: “And while 85 percent of couples will get pregnant in a year using nothing, about 18 percent will get pregnant with “typical” use of withdrawal. (Typical is defined as imperfect, real-world use.) In comparison, 17 percent of condom users wind up pregnant because typically, the prophylactic slips, breaks _ or sits on the nightstand.”

        18% pregnancy rate is not 100% effective. There was no stat on how effective it is with “responsible males with proper control”, probably because such a thing does not exist.

        This pop science article is lacking citations, which I would like to see before actually concluding that this advice is, well, sane. To me, unwanted/unplanned pregnancy is not something to mess around with.

  • Karen Shashok June 29, 2012 at 7:29 am

    It would be nice if the BMC Research Notes retraction notice included a public apology to the authors so that they will not be accused of misconduct at home. The error was made by the publisher but the potential damage to their reputation will be borne by the authors. Doesn’t seem right.

  • D G Rossiter June 29, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Noah, you are right that people are not perfect — so the failure rate for “typical” withdrawal is almost the same as “typical” (real-world) condom use. Moral: Just Say No?? Anyway my point was only that there is a big difference between saying a method can’t work — when it clearly can when used properly, e.g. the condoms — and that is is flawed because of the basic biology. Anyway, no sheep were injured in the composition of these ruminations..

  • conradseitz July 2, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    The point about “withdrawal” as a form of contraception referred to late-Empire France. At that time, there was little or nothing available, so an 18% failure rate was considered acceptable (to the users) or unacceptable (to the Church). Nowadays, with such items as oral contraceptives available, women have gotten a lot more “picky” about failure rates.
    I was thinking about working in something referring to condoms being made of sheep intestines (presumably harming the sheep in the search for contraception) but nothing came to mind. Anyone care to tackle that opportunity?

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