Authors hit for image manipulation cycle, but don’t worry, they’ll resubmit retracted paper

j virologyRegrets were had, mistakes were made, but gosh-darn-it, they’re gonna resubmit that retracted paper in the future.

Such is the message from a retraction of “Tsg101 Interacts with Herpes Simplex Virus 1 VP1/2 and Is a Substrate of VP1/2 Ubiquitin-Specific Protease Domain Activity,” from Italian virologists who admitted to copying and pasting their way into the Journal of Virology:

Volume 87, no. 1, 692–696, 2013. Pages 692–696: The authors regretfully retract this article at the request of the Journal of Virology. All the authors take responsibility for mistakes made in the final assembly of the figures, including unacceptable digital manipulation of data in panels of Fig. 1, 2, and 3, as follows:

  1. In Fig. 1B lower left panel, bands in lanes 1 and 2 were duplicated in lanes 3 and 4 and in Fig. 1B, lower right panel, the band in lane 2 was spliced into the image.

  2. In Fig. 2C, middle panel, the band in lane 4 was spliced into the gel image.

  3. In Fig. 2D, middle panel, the band in lane 4 was spliced into the gel image.

  4. In Fig. 3B, the “tubulin” blot in panel B was copied and pasted from the last three lanes of the “tubulin” blot of panel A and rotated 180 degrees.

  5. In Fig. 3C, in the area above the bands in the right panel of the left grouping, a gray rectangle was pasted over the image.

The editor in chief of the Journal of Virology has reviewed our raw data and has concluded that our original findings are supported, and, more importantly, that the major conclusion of the paper still stands, i.e., that VP1/2 interacts with Tsg101 and modulates the level of Tsg101 ubiquitination. Since the integrity of the data as presented was compromised, however, the authors retract this publication. We apologize to the editors and the readers of the journal for any inconvenience caused by our mistakes. We intend to resubmit the paper with corrected figures for reconsideration by the Journal of Virology.

That’s an impressive amount of “unacceptable digital manipulation”: spliced, copied, pasted, and even grayed out Western blot bands.

The paper looked into how the tumor susceptibility gene 101 product interacts with Herpes simplex virus 1, but that’s almost beside the point. What really caught our attention was the last sentence in the author’s mea culpa:

We intend to resubmit the paper with corrected figures for reconsideration by the Journal of Virology.

We’ve seen this situation before: authors fake some data, get caught, somehow the paper’s conclusions stand, plan to resubmit. For examples see here, here and here.

The has been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. We contacted study authors Giorgio Palù and Arianna Calistri at the University of Padova in Italy, and also editor Rozanne M. Sandri-Goldin at the University of California, Irvine. We’ll let you know when they get back to us.

For those non-U.S. readers (and even some of those in the U.S.) who might wonder what it means to “hit for the cycle,” here’s a primer.

Hat tip: Niraj Makadiya

5 thoughts on “Authors hit for image manipulation cycle, but don’t worry, they’ll resubmit retracted paper”

  1. Should copying and pasting not be considered as a single infraction (duplication, or copy-pasting)? Copying without pasting is harmless; pasting without copying is, well, difficult.

  2. Given the fact that, during the regular review process, a paper can be rejected and the authors can be discouraged from resubmitting it to the same journal, these image manipulations/fabrications should be reason enough for the Journal of Virology to not accept a resubmission.

  3. So what, they’ll resubmit the paper to another journal! Doesn’t this happen all the time? A flawed paper is rejected, then it is accepted by another journal. I believe that submissions should be tracked in order to compare the original paper with the final published product.
    ANARCHY!

  4. One of my main gripes as a reviewer is to pick up a paper that has clear, flagrant manipulation (one example was panels of figures that had been re-used, but cropped or rotated and cells deleted) – only to see the paper appear in a different journal within months with the offending figure “fixed”.

    1. Any paper no matter what, eventually gets accepted after some 10 rounds of rejections and refinements. Why do we continue to allow this!

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