Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Biochemistry journal retracts paper for being, well, less than conclusive

without comments

Here’s a new one that may stoke the debate about whether a paper deserves retraction merely for being wrong or less than fully right.

The journal Cell Biochemistry and Function, a Wiley title, has retracted an article it published earlier this year by a pair of Chinese authors — or, rather, from one author an an unwitting co-author. That authorship issue alone should be enough to warrant a retraction. But the retraction notice also includes a more interesting matter:

The following article from Cell Biochemistry and Function, “Notch activation Is regulated by interaction between hCLP46 and the chaperone protein calnexin” by Xiaoqin Feng and Lixin Liu, published online on 3 April 2012 in Wiley Online Library (, has been retracted with agreement from the authors, the journal Editor, Nigel Loveridge, and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The retraction has been agreed because the paper was submitted without approval from the co-author, Lixin Liu, and contains data that requires further experimentation in order to support the conclusions fully.

The wording suggests that the data support the conclusions at least partly. That seems like a standard that applies to pretty much every scientific paper ever published (say it with us, a hypothesis is an idea that can be tested and disproved but not proven).  And if we had a dollar for every article that ended with “additional studies are required,” we’d have lots of dollars.

We asked Loveridge by email how the retraction notice came to read as it did and will update this post if we hear from him.

Hat tip: Clare Francis

  • chirality July 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    It does not say that “additional studies are required”. It says, more or less, that the data this paper is based on require “further experimentation”, whatever that means. Maybe it is a polite way of saying that the data are BS.

  • amarcus41 July 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for your comment. You’re correct that the retraction notice doesn’t contain that quotation; we were simply observing that the phrase is akin to the more common construction we often see — and that suggests the same basic idea: more research (as opposed to, say, better research) is needed.

  • Debbie Knight July 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Hats off to Lixin Liu for standing up and saying, hey, I’m not entirely sure that my data is ready to be published. Much better than riding it out.

  • chris July 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    This is surely straightforward. Feng jumped the gun in submitting a manuscript without approval from Liu. In Liu’s mind the study isn’t advanced eonough yet to support the conclusions with confidence and further work should be done before the paper is ready to submit.

    So very likely this isn’t relevant to the “debate” “about whether a paper deserves retraction merely for being wrong or less than fully right.” The “good faith/bad faith” consideration applies; one author submitted a manuscript without the approval of the coauthor. That’s a fraudulent submission (i.e. “bad faith”), and the paper is retracted for that reason. It doesn’t matter whether the paper is wrong or less than fully right, or whatever. If both authors had confidence in the work as presented there would be no question of retraction whatever the extent of “rightness” or “wrongness”.

    Of course it could be an enormous blunder on Fengs part (an error rather than a fraud), but it’s very difficult to imagine how you could neglect to get the approval of a co-author in a two author paper….

  • Jon Beckmann July 25, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    Requires further experimentation? Like ANY published study? Probably the paper is junk, I have not read it, but imagine if we had to retract all papers that do not prove the conclusions with certainty…

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