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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Authors retract Current Biology study following criticism on PubPeer and university investigation

with 12 comments

current biologyThe authors of a Current Biology paper published online in February of this year have retracted it after voluminous criticism on post-publication review site PubPeer and a university committee found evidence of figure manipulation.

The paper, “Agonist-Induced GPCR Shedding from the Ciliary Surface Is Dependent on ESCRT-III and VPS4,” was co-authored by Hua Jin and Livana Soetedjo, a graduate student in Jin’s lab. Soetedjo was first author, and Jin was corresponding author.

The comments at PubPeer began on March 24:

The movies presented in the work look very unnatural. Firstly, nothing is moving at all except for released vesicles. Cell shape, primary cilium, and intracellular vesicles are completely freezing. Second, all vesicles released from primary cilium are flowing away almost in straight lines, and moving in very thin area without getting away from focal plane (4 um in the work). The behavior of vesicles seems extraphysical. Can anybody explain what happens in the movies?

A few of the comments suggested the movies felt like “Space Invaders.” Elsewhere, figures came under scrutiny:

Oh, my. Some other oddities:

The strange “washout” effect seen in Fig 4E is also apparent in Tsg101 panels of Figure 4C:
http://i.imgur.com/QJcSahs.png

Also, in Figure 4D “lysate” panel, highly similar bands in adjacent lanes raise the possibility of bane duplication:
http://i.imgur.com/CRoS7Pj.png

Also, highly similar bands appear in different lanes of Figure 5A:
http://i.imgur.com/MlmQHEr.png

The retraction appeared on June 2:

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).

Concerns regarding the western blotting and live-cell imaging data presented in this paper were reported to the journal editors. An investigation by a faculty committee at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the work was carried out, concluded that some figures had been manipulated by the first author. In light of the committee’s findings, the corresponding author wishes to retract the paper in full. The first author agreed with the retraction of this work but declined further explanation. The corresponding author apologizes to the journal, the reviewers of the manuscript, and the scientific community for the inconvenience caused.

University investigations often take a long time, so the retraction is quite swift given that such an investigation had to take place. We’ve asked Soetedjo for more details, and will update with anything we learn.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

June 12, 2014 at 9:30 am

12 Responses

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  1. Post publication peer review hard at work

    ferniglab

    June 12, 2014 at 9:34 am

  2. So are we to assume the corresponding author, Prof Hua Jin, did not at all think these videos and figure panels to be somehow strange? Again, it is all too simple to lay the blame with the first author. And would the Cell Press (and other publishers) kindly consider using image analysis software for their submissions?

    Leonid Schneider

    June 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

    • The corresponding author has apologized and not denied any fault it seems. I would agree that censure is warrented, however, Jin it seems has been cooperative, allowed the investigation to proceed rapidly, etc. Given that Jin (and peer reviewers and editors) totally dropped the ball on this one… Could Jin have responded better as far as we know? I still blame Jin… But a repentant sinner whose sin is ignorance is far better than a denier who won’t apologize or admit wrong.

      QAQ

      June 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      • IMO fault lies more with Prof. Jin as this paper had only 2 authors and the first author who supposedly falsified images / data is a graduate student who joined the lab in 2012. A graduate student who had been in the lab for a little over 1 year warrants oversight from the mentor. I do not condone the wrongdoing by the graduate student but if the student is to be penalized for scientific misconduct then the mentor too should be penalized for failing in her duties as a mentor and senior author.

        AI

        June 14, 2014 at 10:05 pm

  3. Has anyone vetted Soetedjo’s other papers?

    • Let’s face it. Without authors, publishers will not exist. That means that we actually hold a tremendous amount of power and sway. The only reason why publishers are able to hold a hand to our necks is because we fail miserably in raising numbers to counter-act bad professionalism, whether by editors, peers, or publishers. This is no sloppy-Joe journal. This is Current Biology, one of Elsevier’s premier journals with a handsome 5-Y impact factor of 10.455 (http://www.journals.elsevier.com/current-biology/). Isn’t it time that we start to demand, as part of the “retraction packet”, that publishers also make the peer reviewer reports publically available? Surely, if publishers forcefully hold authors accountable by demanding 1 zillion guarantees upon submission, and data sets, etc., then surely they should also be held accountable, by showing publically, the full peer reports. As F1000 Research does in an exemplary model. It’s impossible to understand how such a premier journal could have conducted thorough peer review, and then get ripped to shreds in PeerJ. How could Elsevier have failed so miserably with quality control? I say we start to demand two things:
      a) resignation of incompetent editors and EICs;
      b) Elsevier must publish the peer reviewer reports of (at least) retracted papers, so that the scientific community can see what went wrong during processing.

      Of course, the same principle should apply to ALL publishers, not only Elsevier.

      Either that, or face an academic boycott by scientists. The sadness with my latter suggestion is that the great majority of scientists are still gaming the impact factor for personal benefit (and don’t want to publically admit it), so boycotting their benefactor while they are still getting drunk off its benefits doesn’t suit a pool of scientists who are increasingly showing themselves to be lack-luster invertebrates.

      JATdS

      June 12, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      • Erratum: PeerJ should read PubPeer.

        JATdS

        June 12, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    • There’s only one other as far as I could tell, and I didn’t find anything in there. I also looked at a couple of Jin’s earlier papers (many in glamor journals) and didn’t find anything, although that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be found.

      vhedwig

      June 12, 2014 at 11:48 pm

  4. Both, Jin and Soetedjo have admitted their mistakes, weather the mistake was purposeful or unknowing overlook is not clear and to me it does not matter.
    But it is interesting to see the comments. An almost immediate reaction was to look at Soetedjo’s and Jins earlier work with the same angle.
    Why is making a mistake (purposeful or by overlook) is immediately being viewed with complete negativity irrespective of all the great thing that person has done in all the years.
    Not just specific to this condition , I have observed on most comments here and elsewhere that once a person has a retraction (what ever reason), it almost is made to appear that the authors as criminals and I am sure in most cases it is almost an end to the career, more so if it is mid level or an entry level researcher.
    I feel we all make mistakes and they need to be identified and told so that we can weed them out. This would require an open healthy discussion rather than splitting hair out of anything and everything that author is associated with.
    We are encouraging a system where if the results don’t hold up by the ever changing standards that we ourselves have evolved, the person is a fraud and should be thrown out. I don’t think scientific papers a re gospel truths and they can not be. They are a report of the observations made within the confines of a laboratory and the interpretations to that. People can err at many places and go wrong. Unless it is repeatedly done , I feel tying the reputation of an individual to a report by any stretch of imagination is flawed and need not be encouraged.
    Read this on some other post (don’t remember where) if single mistakes (even stupid ones) are not survivable, we are encouraging fraud, not fighting it.

    Deepak

    June 13, 2014 at 2:04 am

    • ” w[he]ther the mistake was purposeful or unknowing overlook is not clear and to me it does not matter.”
      I think this is where your confusion is. Based on the images and analysis posted online, the ‘mistakes’ appear to be obvious, intentional and flagrant. It is the kind of thing that seems to be done with a clear intention to deceive.
      I think that is why the paper was retracted right away, and I expect there to be further fallout from the investigation.

      Dan Zabetakis

      June 13, 2014 at 10:06 am

      • I am not saying that the retraction is not justified. In this case it is completely justified and it appears that it is intentional. Further I also support that there has to be an investigation done to get to the matter.
        My reservation is towards the idea that about tying the reputation of an individual to a retraction. We all make mistakes and these mistakes make us learn. Unless done repeatedly, I am against the notion that a retraction is (almost always considered) equivalent to fraud.

        Deepak

        June 17, 2014 at 9:33 am

        • The reputational damage in this case is not caused by the retraction but by the intentional data falsification that led to the retraction.

          i.e. the “Space Invader” movie.

          The author(s) reputations would be intact if the paper had been retracted for a more benign reason.


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