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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Three PLOS ONE papers retracted for totally made-up data

with 13 comments

This one comes to us from Twitter, where Willem van Schaik went to express his frustration that a PLOS ONE paper he’d edited had been retracted for fake data.

Two other papers from the same group at the Institute of Microbial Technology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Chandigarh, India, were retracted simultaneously.

We sent van Schaik an email to get a clearer picture of the situation. He responded:

I was contacted about two weeks ago by the PLOS ONE Editorial Office that this manuscript was going to be retracted together with two other PLOS ONE manuscripts of the same group (here are the links: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075928, http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0075046,http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0062178) because somebody contacted the authors’ institution about possible problems with these manuscripts. After the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research concluded their investigation and found that the data in these papers were fabricated, they contacted PLOS ONE for the retraction of this paper.

I noticed that these three papers were all submitted between Jan and May 2013 and were handled by three different editors, which may have made it more difficult to catch any fraud. The papers all follow the same outline: a bacterium was isolated from natural environments and was able to metabolize some unusual chemicals. In the papers the degradation kinetics and the metabolic pathways are described. When comparing the three papers, you will see that the graphs are very similar but not identical so even with hindsight, I find it difficult to find which data have been fabricated. I hope that the author’s institute (http://www.imtech.res.in/) will provide more details on this case of data fabrication.

The manuscript has been reviewed by two reviewers and needed considerable editorial effort. I am very sorry that the reviewers have had to spend their time and effort on a manuscript that ultimately turned out to be a fake.

Here’s the notice for the paper van Schaik edited, which has been cited once – in a paper by the same group. The notice is the same for all three papers:

The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has carried out an investigation about several publications by this group in order to evaluate concerns raised about the authenticity of the data.

The investigation committee at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has concluded that there are no data available underlying this study and thus that the published results are fabricated. As a result, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research has requested the retraction of the publication. The authors are in agreement with the request by the investigation committee.

In line with the outcome of the institutional investigation, PLOS ONE retracts this publication.

Kudos to van Schaik — who also wondered aloud if he should “change how I act as editor” after this situation — for not ducking behind the parapet on this one.

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Written by Cat Ferguson

July 11, 2014 at 10:00 am

13 Responses

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  1. A quick look at the Schaik-edited paper finds that in Figure 3B, panels 1 and 2 seem to show the same NMR spectrum, but with different labels. It looks like a cut-and-paste job to assemble a spectrum showing a peak at the desired location.

    I didn’t see anything else obvious. If I was reviewing the paper without being told there was suspected fakery, I might or might not have detected it.

    Dan Zabetakis

    July 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

  2. van Schaik acted perfectly correctly. When he discovered they were fake, he retracted them and explained why. He is setting a good example that other editors could follow.

    Prof Darrel Francis

    July 12, 2014 at 1:48 pm

  3. Thank you, DanZebetakis for pointing out the problems with the HPLC-plots in Fig 3B (the peaks at 3.20, 5.62 and 10.60 in panel 1 are very similar (probably identical) to 8.68, 10.94 and 13.94).
    Also thanks to Prof. Francis for his nice words, but I want to correct him on one point. I did not make the decision to retract the paper, but this was done by the PLOS ONE Editorial Office, who handled this with admirable thoroughness.

    WvSchaik

    July 12, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    • A key question is, can any of the other 600+ papers published by the senior author, Swaranjit Singh Cameotra, be trusted?

      JATdS

      July 13, 2014 at 11:50 am

      • 600 papers???

        Google Scholar lists 117.

        Bobo

        July 14, 2014 at 11:19 am

        • That is correct. I misread the metrics which were written in Japanese as my PC automatically is rerouted to Japanese Google Scholar. I was referring, incorrectly, the approx 630 citations to his papers in 2013 alone.

          JATdS

          July 14, 2014 at 11:47 am

    • Just correct both of us, the data in Fig 3B is GC-MS rather than either HPLC or NMR.

      Dan Zabetakis

      July 14, 2014 at 10:33 am

    • One more similar paper of this group
      Journal of Hazardous Materials
      2013 | 254-255 | Complete | 72-78
      Aerobic degradation of 4-nitroaniline (4-NA) via novel degradation intermediates by Rhodococcus sp. strain FK48
      Fazlurrahman Khan Janmejay Pandey Surendra Vikram Deepika Pal Swaranjit Singh Cameotra

      AAP

      July 15, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      • Dear AAP, if indeed similar, please feel free to indicate what is similar here at RW. Then, do the scentific community a favor and spend a few minutes contacting the JHM (Elsevier) Editors-in-Chief about your cncenrs. If each scientist that detected something odd took a few moments to contact the relevant authorities, rather than posting comments and perhas expecting someone else to do this, there is a strong possibility that the act of “policing” the literature could be speeded up.

        JATdS

        July 15, 2014 at 10:53 pm

        • Dear JATdS,
          Thank you for your message. I doubt that the data of this paper are fabricated because this paper also communicated at that time frame. Furthermore, compounds is also similar with plos one retracted papers. Most important that authors mentioned that

          1. “Positive molecular ion mass spectra were acquired in mass/charge (m/z) range of 40–600:, however figure 3 b showed range was start from 0 without any noise.

          2. Similar mistake was found in figure 4 where figure range is 200-360 but authored mentioned 220-360.

          Most of data and experiments are similiar to PLOS one retracted papers. Furthermore, HPLC data are not clear. Authors did something with X axis of second chromatogram of HPLC.

          http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304389413001970

          AAP

          July 16, 2014 at 1:51 am

          • Four more papers are being retracting of this group.

            And they were published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials (on June 15, 2013), in Chemosphere (in November last year) and the other two in the Journal of Petroleum and Environmental Biotechnology (on August 21 and November 29, 2013).

            http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/csir-scientists-at-imtech-used-faked-data-in-seven-papers/article6218161.ece

            AAP

            July 17, 2014 at 3:09 am

            • The scientific community should applaud the attitude and actions of the IMTECH director, Dr. Girish Sahni who seems to be frank and transparent about getting all facts on top of the table rather than, as is very customary by directors who wish to protect their pride, to sweep them under the table. Kudos to him. Incidentally, I had already heard of the first two journals, excellent Elsevier journals, but was surprised to learn that the publisher of the third title you mention was Omics, which has been on the hot plate on Beall’s grill: http://scholarlyoa.com/2014/07/10/is-omics-publishing-group-sneakily-trying-to-buy-its-way-into-pubmed/ (so it would be interesting to tie up some loose knots, like the influence of incomplete or poor peer review, the predatory nature of Omics, if at all, and how false data escaped the scrutiny of peers, who would have hypothetically been literature in the appropriate literature).

              JATdS

              July 17, 2014 at 7:26 am


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