The Journal of Neuroscience‘s retraction notices often give us plenty to chew on, and a new Expression of Concern does the same.
In the notice — for a 16-year-old paper — the journal notes three cases of what certainly sounds like image manipulation, but carefully avoids calling it that:
The editors wish to express concern about the article by Ellerby HM, Martin SJ, Ellerby LM, Naiem SS, Rabizadeh S, Salvesen GS, Casiano CA, Cashman NR, Green DR, and Bredesen DE, entitled “Establishment of a Cell-free System of Neuronal Apoptosis: Comparison of Premitochondrial, Mitochondrial, and Postmitochondrial Phases” published in The Journal of Neuroscience (1997) 17:6165–6178.
The image in the top right of the panel labeled “60 min” in Figure 2A, when rotated 90° counterclockwise, appears to be more similar than would be expected to that at the top right of the panel labeled “30 min” in Figure 6A.
The image showing CPP32-stained bands in the far right lane of Figure 5A (3000 g of extract, treated with mastoparan) appears to be more similar than would be expected to that in the far right lane of Figure 8 (16,000 g of extract, treated with cytochromec/dATP).
In Figure 6C, the fodrin-stained band in the far left lane (16,000 g of extract) appears to be more similar than would be expected to that in the left lane under Bcl-2 treatment (3000 g of extract).
In response to the editors’ concerns, the corresponding author writes that the authors state “unequivocally that there was no misrepresentation of data, nor was there any scientific misconduct.”
The paper has been cited 170 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
The pseudonymous Clare Francis was apparently the reader who alerted the the journal to the issues, back in February. Yesterday, Peggy Mason, the chair of the ethics committee for the Society for Neuroscience, which publishes the journal, wrote Francis:
We found merit in your concerns and agreed that several images appeared to be re-used. The authors emphatically denied this. In the face of their denial, we would ordinarily have written to request an institutional inquiry. However, given the long period since publication and the re-location of authors to other institutions, we deemed it unlikely that this tact would be useful. Therefore, we published a notice of concern.
The case, Mason wrote, is “considered closed.”
Douglas R. Green, the second-to-last author of the paper, was also a co-author on two papers found to contain image manipulation by a committee at McGill. One of those papers, in Nature, was corrected, while the other was left as it is.