Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Geneticist retracting four papers for “significant problems”

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jbc 620Benjamin Barré, a genetics researcher who recently set up his own group at the University of Angers, is retracting four papers he worked on as a graduate student and postdoc.

Neil Perkins, in whose lab Barré was a postdoc, and Olivier Coqueret, in whose lab he did his PhD, tell Retraction Watch:

Olivier and I first became aware of problems with images of gels in some of the Figures in Dr Barre’s papers at the end of March, 2014. Although we initially thought these were isolated mistakes and that some errors had occurred during the editing of the figures, further investigations by ourselves as well as colleagues in Newcastle and Angers, followed later by EMBO Journal, revealed that this was a significant problem. As a consequence we realised that the integrity of these papers was compromised and there was no option but to retract these reports. We have been in touch with the relevant journals throughout this period.

Dr Barre takes full responsibility for the problems with figures and has written to the University of Angers and affected Universities in the UK (Dundee, Bristol and Newcastle) to confirm this. However, he strongly insists that these problems were the result of careless mistakes. Consequently, investigations have started with an external committee in France (in Angers) as well as an investigation in the UK (jointly between Dundee and Newcastle) to determine if scientific misconduct has taken place. Before the results of these are known, both Olivier Coqueret and myself would prefer not to pre-judge the outcome of this process and so will not comment on this specific issue.

Here are the four papers. The first two have been retracted:

This article has been withdrawn by the authors.

We have recently become aware that there are a number of issues with figures from our 2010 Cell Cycle article entitled “Regulation of activity and function of the p52 NF-κB subunit following DNA damage” (Barré B, et al. Cell Cycle 2010; 9:4795–804; PMID: 21131783; In Figures 1A, 2D, and 4B there are a number of duplicated or partially duplicated images of gels. The first author, Benjamin Barré, performed the experiments and assembled the data into the figures where these issues occurred. We have been unable to locate the original data associated with these figures, meaning that it has not been possible to verify the accuracy of these experiments. Consequently, in our opinion the integrity of the manuscript has been compromised, and there is no option but to retract the paper. The Perkins lab continues to work on the function of the p52/p100 NF-κB subunit and hope to publish work on this in the near future that will help clarify the significance of this pathway.

We’ve seen the notices for the last two, and they’re similar to the Cell Cycle notice. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the opacity of the JBC notice stands out. It seems unlikely the authors were willing to be forthright in the others and not that one, which suggests that the JBC has really limited the number of notices that will contain any detail. A lot of people seem to be trying to doing the right thing in a challenging situation here, but not the JBC.

Of note: PubPeer discussion of the Cell Cycle paper began on PubPeer on March 23, which is when Perkins and Coqueret said they first became aware of the issues. At least one of the authors responded on PubPeer within a several days and said they had requested a correction. Ditto the discussion of the Molecular Cell paper on PubPeer.

Perkins said that he has

agreed an appropriate text for the retractions with the Editors of Molecular Cell and EMBO Journal and these should be made public in mid-July. Benjamin Barre has agreed to co-sign the retraction notices for Cell Cycle, EMBO J and Molecular Cell and also agreed to the JBC retraction.

We have tried to be as open as possible with our institutions and the different journals during this period. If you have any questions or would like any details please let me know, although as stated above, we are now waiting for the results of the institutional investigations and cannot comment on that aspect the situation.

We asked Barré for comment, and he sent this:

It has recently come to our attention that two figures of Molecular Cell article (PMID: 20513428) contained duplication of images. The analysis of my other articles has shown that there were also errors in a EMBO Journal (PMID: 17962807) and Cell Cycle (PMID: 21131783) articles. This suggested that the data are false. For transparency and also to restore the truth, Pr Neil Perkins and myself have looked back the original data and it appeared that the errors come from the very early steps of the figure preparation process when original images were exported. We have contacted the editors of these journals to highlight the errors. In our letter to the journals, I have accepted the responsibility for the mistakes that were made in figure preparation and we have sent most of the original scans and repeats that we have preserved. In many cases, we have been able to find results from replicate experiments but unfortunately not all the original ones. Consequently, it has not been possible to verify the integrity of the studies and the retraction was inevitable. We deeply regret the publication of these errors and the embarrassment caused by this negligence.

We found also inappropriate duplication of images in a JBC article (PMID: 12438313) published in 2003 when I was working as a PhD student in the Coqueret lab. Pr Olivier Coqueret and myself have alerted the editor of this journal about this error and I have tried to find back my original images. Although I found duplicates, I was unable to find back all the 12-years-old original results associated with the figures so, as previously, it’s not possible to verify the authenticity of the experiments. The credibility of the main result and conclusion were affected and the unique reasonable choice in this situation is the retraction of the article. I am sincerely sorry for this lack of rigor that is again the reason of the retraction.

In total, 4 of my articles are affected by this negligence in the figure preparation process and are or will be retracted. While the overall conclusions of the manuscripts may still be valid, the credibility of these studies has been compromised to the point that retraction is warranted. I assume the responsibility for these errors. I know that they are not easily excusable but I am honest and I wish I will be able to prove it. For this reason, I am participating in an ongoing external investigation in my university. The first meeting has highlighted defaults in my data management and general lab organization. I just would like to add that I always tried to answer at all the requests with forthrightness and transparency in this difficult situation. Once again, I do apologize to the scientific community for these mistakes and I hope that future works will confirm our first observations and conclusions.