Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Journal of Neuroscience retracts federally funded Canadian study with “substantial data misrepresentation”

with 5 comments

The Journal of Neuroscience is retracting a paper by researchers at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada, after a university investigation found “substantial data misrepresentation” in the work, which was funded by two major federal agencies.

Here’s the notice:

The Journal of Neuroscience has received a report describing an investigation by Memorial University, which found substantial data misrepresentation in the article “Bidirectional Dopaminergic Modulation of Excitatory Synaptic Transmission in Orexin Neurons” by Christian O. Alberto, Robert B. Trask, Michelle E. Quinlan, and Michiru Hirasawa, which appeared on pages 10043–10050 of the September 27, 2006 issue. Because the results cannot be considered reliable, The Journal is retracting the paper.

Lead author Hirasawa, “who has been remarkably successful in obtaining operating and equipment funding,” according to Canadians for Health Research, did not respond to requests for comment.

The study, which has been cited 33 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, notes:

This work was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. M.H. is a CIHR New Investigator.

We contacted Memorial University late last week to ask for details of the investigation, whether any other retractions were planned, whether all of the authors were still employed at the university, and whether CIHR or NSERC were made aware of the situation. They told us the relevant people were not available because of the long Canada Day weekend, but said today they were still working on finding answers. We’ll update with anything we find out.

Memorial is no stranger to controversial misconduct investigations, having looked into the work of former nutrition researcher Ranjit Chandra a decade ago and finding issues but “insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint.” Chandra retired from Memorial under a cloud, and a retraction followed.

Please see an update on this post with comment from Memorial.

Hat tip: Madeleine Johnson

Written by Ivan Oransky

July 3rd, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Comments
  • Sierra Rayne July 3, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    One can’t help but notice the trend of Canadian institutions refusing to answer basic direct questions regarding such occurrences and/or refusing to take appropriate action. There appears to be a lack of commitment by our granting agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) to address the problems in the system, but this is not surprising.

    Alberto appears to still be at Memorial: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/christian-o-alberto/29/635/a27

    Apparently Trask is/was the Research Officer in the Faculty of Medicine at Memorial!? (http://www.mun.ca/research/researchers/CIHR_Op_Gr_Comp-Sept-10_Info_for_app.pdf) Bad luck. According to the Memorial online directory (http://www.mun.ca/people_departments/index.php?action=formSearch&lname=trask&fname=&campus=ALL&department=), he still works there, as do Alberto (according to the directory, and thus consistent with his LinkedIn page) and Hirasawa (http://www.med.mun.ca/Medicine/Faculty/Hirasawa,-Michiru.aspx).

  • Toby White July 3, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Interesting … Both Hirasawa and Thiruchelvam (the Parkinson’s papers retracted a few days ago) study environmental effects on dopamine metabolism. Probably a coincidence, but perhaps worth watching. It’s one more area where, as in the social psychology cases, the aim of the research is usually to demonstrate the significance of small elements, from noisy data, in driving large and undesirable results (social or physiological, as the case may be).

    • Jon Beckmann July 4, 2012 at 3:44 am

      Right. I’m still convinced that a good way to catch data fabricators is to keep an eye on researchers who “replicate” data that later on turn out to have been fabricated.

    • Neuroskeptic July 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      But this paper isn’t about the environment affecting dopamine, it’s about how dopamine affects certain other cells in the brain.

      I think you’re trying rather too hard to spot a general pattern here.

      • Toby White July 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm

        You’re probably right. Fortunately, Memorial now reports that there may have been no misconduct after all. Thus, I can adhere to my hypothesis and pointedly ignore the fact that you’ve so thoroughly trashed my very first test case. As the Wizard of Oz says, “Pay no attention to that man in the corner!”

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