Catching up: PLoS Pathogens apologizes for retracting XMRV-prostate cancer paper before contacting a corresponding author
Last week was a bit of a whirlwind in Retraction Land, thanks to a big study of retractions in PNAS and a lot of resulting press coverage. So we didn’t have a chance to update readers on an ongoing story and discussion involving the PLoS journals.
As ScienceInsider was first to report last week, the editor of PLoS Pathogens, Kasturi Haldar, has now apologized for retracting a paper allegedly showing a link between the XMRV virus and prostate cancer without having contacted the second of two corresponding authors. Retraction Watch readers may recall that Haldar told us on September 19:
The authors were contacted by email on August 27th regarding our decision, and were asked to comment on the retraction text and suggest changes. We did not receive a reply, and decided to move forward with the retraction in conjunction with the PLOS ONE publication yesterday, September 18th.
Here’s part of Haldar’s blog post on the matter, posted on September 28:
PLOS Pathogens communicates with authors through the corresponding author. This is our standard practice. We invited commentary through the corresponding author with whom we communicated during manuscript submission and review. The email address was and is current: the individual is an advisory member of our editorial board. We have apologized for not contacting the second corresponding author. Our expectation was that the first would discharge responsibilities to all remaining authors. We have since corresponded with all authors.
ScienceInsider reported that the Robert Silverman, the corresponding author who wasn’t contacted by the journal, thought a correction would have been enough, while Joe DeRisi, the other corresponding author, felt differently:
On Saturday, DeRisi posted a response to the retraction, in which he said he agreed with it. But whether he received the 27 August e-mail, and if so, why he failed to respond or to alert his co-authors, remains unclear. (DeRisi did not respond to multiple emails and voice messages from ScienceInsider.) Silverman says he cannot comment on DeRisi’s inaction; “Suffice it to say we have not been in contact for a long time,” he says. As to the journal’s apology, “I accept it, and I really appreciate it,” he says.
The discussion over the retraction had already prompted Haldar and PLoS editorial director for medicine Virginia Barbour to write a post explaining their retraction policy. Some of the language in that post drew heavy criticism from Retraction Watch readers and others, to which Barbour replied saying one particular phrase — “If a paper’s major conclusions are shown to be wrong we will retract the paper” — has been “pulled out of the blog and over/misinterpreted.” In the second half of the September 28 blog post, Barbour reiterates that PLoS is “not making a new policy here.”
Related: Ivan and Barbour discuss retractions with Nature’s Richard van Noorden on the BBC’s Material World.