The article, “Treadmill exercise improves cognitive function and facilitates nerve growth factor signaling by activating mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase1/2 in the streptozotocin-induced diabetic rat hippocampus,” came out of Korea National Sport University, among others. It seemed to suggest that exercise could make diabetic rats smarter.
According to the retraction notice:
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors.
The authors acknowledge there are serious errors in the figures. Apologies are offered to the readers of the journal that this was not brought to the Editors’ attention during the peer review process.
But this is insufficient information masquerading as an explanation. Were the errors manipulation? What does it mean that the problems were not “brought to the Editors’ attention during the review process”? — that the authors knew about the bad figures but declined to say anything?
We emailed Neuroscience’s editor, Stephen Lisberger, of Duke and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who punted:
I do not know whether the errors were manipulations or honest mistakes. Sorry.
So, the authors gave the journal no information about the nature of the problems — problems, if the notice is to be believed on its face, that evidently prompted the editors, not the authors, to request the retraction? That prompted the Rumsfeldian reply:
I have told you what I know (and don’t know).
Let’s set aside that these responses stretch credulity. After all, Lisberger and his editorial colleagues must have received some notification about the problematic figures, either from the authors themselves or from a concerned reader(s). They really could not, or should not, have retracted the paper without a clear understanding of the nature of the errors. What they ask us to accept, by implication, is that the editors allowed the authors to submit a meaningless retraction notice — or wrote one themselves — without bothering to conduct even a basic inquiry.
Neither alternative should inspire much confidence among the readership of Neuroscience. The study has been cited 12 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
Here’s the last retraction we covered in the journal, which also left a lot of unanswered questions.