We’ve learned more about the circumstances behind a Cell retraction that we covered last week.
First, one of the two corresponding authors left the institution where he most recently worked. Belgium’s VIB Ghent told us that Pankaj Dhonukshe was no longer employed there and said:
Any work performed during his very short stay at our institute, did not lead to scientific publications.
We parted ways this summer as VIB decided to stop the employment agreement with Mr. Dhonukshe, based on the VIB standards concerning scientific quality, integrity and leadership. The work described in the Cell paper that has been retracted was not performed at VIB.
Dhonukshe declined to comment for this post, citing the ongoing investigation at Utrecht University, where he was working when the research was completed.
Second, we learned that the retraction notice initially described the problems as “manipulations,” while the final wording is “mistakes.” Ben Scheres, the other corresponding author, tells us:
Indeed in the retraction notice draft that was considered appropriate for signature by the majority of the authors, including me, we used the word ‘manipulations’. You should contact Cell to find out how it got changed. Proofs of the retraction notice were sent to the corresponding authors, and I noted on hindsight that the change was in the proofs; it was not explicitly flagged and I missed it. When the change was pointed out to me by coauthors after appearance of the retraction, I immediately contacted Cell to question this change and cc’d the concerned coauthors. This inquiry to Cell is still pending.
Cell editor and Cell Press CEO Emilie Marcus tells us:
The preliminary findings of the university investigating committee are confidential and therefore cannot be quoted here, however as communicated to Cell by Utrecht University officials their investigation was unable to identify intentional manipulation for the data presented in this paper; the findings of the investigation are currently under appeal. An earlier version of the Retraction text did contain a reference to “manipulation” but was revised in keeping with editorial policy to be more closely aligned with the findings of the institutional investigation. The final text was sent to both corresponding authors (PD and BS) prior to publication and no further corrections or changes were requested.
We acknowledge that there are significant controversies and concerns surrounding one of the authors of this paper and the Retraction statement of this paper alone will not address all of these issues appropriately. That said, we feel the current Retraction statement accurately reflects the information available about this specific paper and states clearly that the “original data were processed inappropriately.”
Please see an update on this post, with results of the Utrecht investigation.