Authors, including highly cited cancer researcher, blame “clerical error” for image mixup in paper
The Journal of Experimental Medicine has issued a correction for a 2011 paper by Michael Karin, a prominent cancer researcher at the University of California, San Diego, after learning about a “clerical error” in one of the figures.
According to the notice for the article, “Constitutive intestinal NF-κB does not trigger destructive inflammation unless accompanied by MAPK activation,”
As a result of a clerical error, an incorrect data image was displayed in the control panel for the CD11c staining in the original Fig. 2 A. The corrected figure is below. This modification does not alter the interpretation of the data.
Karin’s work has been the subject of several posts on the site Science Fraud and at least one other blog. Several of his articles have come in for correction (Science Fraud has a list, including this JEM paper), and in 2009, his group retracted a 2000 Cell paper — all for image problems:
After publication of the above article, we realized that the anti-IKKα (IB) loading controls presented in Figures 3A, 3B, 3C, and 4C are duplicate presentations of the same gel lanes and do not represent the correct controls for the individual experiments. In addition, the anti-IKKα (IB) loading control in the right panel of Figure 4C is an inadvertent duplication of the DNA-PKcs (IB) data in the left panel of Figure 5F. These errors in figure preparation limit the interpretability of the related experimental data in these figures, which are an essential component of the support for the main conclusions of the paper regarding the activation of IKK and NF-κB. We are therefore retracting this paper and apologize for these errors and for any inconvenience they may have caused. Despite these errors, we stand by the reproducibility of the experimental data and the conclusion, which has been reached by numerous subsequent studies, that IKK and NF-κB are required for activation of innate immunity.
Dr. Lois was not reachable via any of the available contact information and therefore has not seen or agreed to the text of this retraction.
Karin has published nearly 400 papers, according to a link to Medline on his website. More than 25 of them have been cited at least 1,000 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
A clerical error could mean many things, so we asked Karin to elaborate but have not heard back. Meanwhile, Marlowe Tessmer, a top editor at the JEM, told us that
The authors indicated a mislabeling error occurred.
That makes some sense, and Tessmer said she had no reason to doubt that explanation, although it’s interesting to note that the journal learned about a problem with the figure not from the authors themselves but from “a third party.”