Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications has withdrawn a paper it published earlier this year on metabolic proteins linked to diabetes, not because the article was bogus but because the authors appear to have been. The work itself is accurate — indeed, it likely belongs to a Harvard scientist, Bruce Spiegelman, who’d presented his data on the subject several times recently and was in the process of preparing his results for publication. We’ve written about researchers trying to punk journals with faked articles, and about a researcher who apparently made up a co-author, but here’s something new!
Nature has the story. According to Nature, in July Spiegelman:
e-mailed Ernesto Carafoli, BBRC’s editor-in-chief, to air his concerns. “The authors on this paper have apparently never published a single academic paper before and they list a non-academic e-mail address,” he wrote. “Odder still, upon looking for them on Google, PubMed or on the website of the university they list, there is no mention of any of the authors as being at that university.”
Carafoli, along with Elsevier, launched an investigation. Elsevier temporarily withdrew the paper from the journal website on 8 August, and, after the University of Thessaly confirmed that none of the researchers listed on the paper had ever worked there, now intends to withdraw it permanently.
Here’s the withdrawal notice for the paper, “Identification of meteorin and metrnl as two novel pro-differentiative adipokines: Possible roles in controlling adipogenesis and insulin sensitivity,” which lists as its authors a team from the School of Health Sciences at the University of Thessaly:
BBRC has been targeted by a scheme to defraud our editors, reviewers and readers with submission of a manuscript with falsified author and institutional information and therefore wholly unverifiable scientific claims. The manuscript has been withdrawn. We consider such abuse of the editorial and peer review system with the submission of fictional content unethical and it wastes the valuable time of all those who contributed to the evaluation of this manuscript. We are currently exploring which local authorities would have jurisdiction, and will with such authorities explore the question of whether this also constitutes a criminal case of internet fraud and we anticipate turning over to them all of the information we have been able to attain from EES regarding the source of the fraudulent submission.
Nature says Spiegelman “is keen for there to be a criminal investigation,” although based on our experience, that seems quite unlikely. Elsevier, in comments to Nature, didn’t rule out the idea that this was criminal behavior.
We congratulate BBRC on its aggressive handling of this case. But we’re a little worried that sort of aggressiveness might be a one-off. The journal in September withdrew another article, “Down-regulation of long non-coding RNA TUG1 suppresses melanoma cell proliferation and induces apoptosis via up-regulating microRNA-9.” The reason?
This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author. The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.