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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Proteomics paper retracted for plagiarized figure of mysterious origin

with 8 comments

proteomicsThe journal Proteomics has retracted a paper for a plagiarized figure — but how the authors came to possess the image in the first place remains a mystery.

Here’s the notice:

The following article from Proteomics, “A proteomic approach for investigation of photosynthetic apparatus in plants” by C. Ciambella, P. Roepstorff, E.M. Aro and L. Zolla, published online on 28 January 2005 in the Wiley Online Library (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pmic.200401129/full), has been retracted by agreement between the authors, the Editor-in-Chief and Wiley-VCH GmbH & Co. KGaA. The retraction has been agreed due to the similarity of Figure 4 in this article and an image from an article by B. Granvogl and L.A. Eichacker which was originally submitted to Proteomics on November 1st, 2002 and which was finally published online on 6 June 2006 in the Wiley Online Library (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pmic.200500924/full) as Figure 1 in Proteomics, “Mapping the proteome of thylakoid membranes by de novo sequencing of intermembrane peptide domains” by B. Granvogl, V. Reisinger and L.A. Eichacker.

The paper has been cited 43 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The retraction follows an extensive investigation by LabTimes — where, in the interests of full disclosure, we have a regular column — involving analyses from two experts unaffiliated with either group of researchers. (One of those experts, Thierry Rabilloud, is an associate editor of Proteomics.) Some of the relevant parties had retired, and researchers had lost track of the first author on the 2005 paper, Corrado Ciambella.

It’s a complicated story, as you would expect given the timeline described in the retraction. After all, how would researchers plagiarize a figure that had been submitted, but not yet published? The sequence suggests the possibility that the 2005 paper’s authors had access to the paper eventually published in 2006 — after being rejected, it turns out — but there’s no proof of that.

Read the whole piece here, including careful forensic analysis, to see why the paper was finally retracted.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

February 20, 2013 at 9:30 am

8 Responses

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  1. Definitely worth a read of the Lab Times article – a very well researched story. It just shows that in research fraud and other forms of criminology, you should always expect the unexpected. Never disbelieve a story just because you wouldn’t do what someone else did.

    Plus maybe this is a first – poaching and falsifying of someone else’s unpublished image?


    February 20, 2013 at 11:02 am

  2. I like it when you put people’s faces up. It shows you cannot tell by looking.

    fernando pessoa

    February 20, 2013 at 11:07 am

  3. Heads should roll for this.


    February 20, 2013 at 2:12 pm

  4. I don’t think either the journal statement or the LabTimes investigation goes far enough. Some of this is Eichacker’s fault as well.

    The article suggests that the original scan *could have* been extracted from a Powerpoint file *if* the original authors had submitted one in 2002. But Eichacker does not actually claim to have submitted a Powerpoint. Did he or not? He needs to say yes or no. The journals Proteomics and Biochemistry need to be asked what files were submitted (if they know). The journals need to be asked who the reviewers and editors were who had access to the submitted files, and if they won’t confirm the identity of those involved, they at least need to say whether or not they were professionally associated with the second group.


    February 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    • Not sure if this helps


      But I presume a powerpoint would have been involved at this presentation
      “Proteomics of thylakoid membranes from barley by 2D-BN/SDSPAGE and tandem ESIMS/
      C. Ciambella, S. Rinalducci, A. M. Timperio, G. M. D’Amici E.-M. Aro, P. Roepstorff and L. Zolla
      “Proteine 2004” Viterbo 20-22 Maggio 2004.”

      Interesting that Eichacker is now working in Norway, that might explain why the Finnish author was unable to find the original gel image and why the Danish author doesn’t seem too fussed about the whole affair, only the Italian is grumbling.
      As I understand it, you do the MS on spots that are cut out of the gel (or am I hopelessly wrong here?). If we assume that a false gel image was deposited in the Finnish archive (now missing) , we would have to assume that Peter Roepstorff made up the MS values.
      Although I expect Eichacker won’t want to press the issue.


      February 21, 2013 at 1:19 am

  5. Are we absolutely sure of the provenance of the 2002 version of the Granvogl paper?

    I only ask this because I can see what looks like a splice line in the gel of the Granvogl paper that is jumping up and down saying “Woo-hoo, look at me, look at me.” However, these apparent splice line can be artifacts of gel compression. Pretty consistent artifact though, running some distance down the gel.


    February 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm

  6. Interesting story; I enjoyed reading the full article. It’s not as convulted as you guys make it out to be. The article explains it very well. If they wanted to get in touch with Ciambella, they should have messaged him on Facebook. I found his profile after a few seconds.


    February 22, 2013 at 8:12 am

    • ‘convoluted’. Gah. Must type slower.


      February 22, 2013 at 8:13 am

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