Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Scientists “wish to resign as co-authors:” Quantum dot paper retracted

with 21 comments

chemcommChemical Communications has retracted a 2015 article by a group of researchers in China over concerns about fabricated data and an incredible shrinking list of authors.

The paper, “N, S co-doped graphene quantum dots from a single source precursor used for photodynamic cancer therapy under two-photon excitation,” was ostensibly written by nine researchers at the Collaborative Innovation Center for Marine Biomass Fiber, Materials and Textiles of Shandong Province, the Shandong Sino-Japanese Center for Collaborative Research of Carbon Nanomaterials, Laboratory of Fiber Materials and Modern Textiles, the Growing Base for State Key Laboratory at the  College of Chemical Science and Engineering at Qingdao University, and Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

According to the abstract:

Using polythiophene derivatives as single source precursors, nitrogen (N) and sulfur (S) co-doped graphene quantum dots (NS-GQD) were prepared. Under two-photon excitation (800 nm), the NS-GQD exhibited excellent photostability and high 1O2 generation, and therefore were developed as photodynamic therapy agents for cancer treatment.

But things fall apart. Here’s the notice (which is difficult to access, if not paywalled):

Xifeng Liu, Zonghua Wang, Feifei Zhang, Jianfei Xia, Min Yang, Sai Bi and Yanzhi Xia wish to resign as co-authors to the above article.

Xifeng Liu has declared that he contributed only to revision of the English language in the manuscript and did not participate in the experimental research reported. Zonghua Wang, Feifei Zhang, Jianfei Xia, Min Yang, Sai Bi and Yanzhi Xia declare that they did not participate in the experimental research that was reported in this article.

The corrected authorship list and affiliations for this paper are as follows:

Rijun Gui,*a and Hui Jin,a

aThe Growing Base for State Key Laboratory, Qingdao University, Qingdao, Shandong 266071, P. R. China. E-mail: guirijun@qdu.edu.cn; Fax: +86 532 85950873; Tel: +86 532 85950873

(2) We, the named authors in the corrected authorship list, hereby wholly retract this Chemical Communications article due to data fabrication in the reported characterisation of the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon precursor (PTPD) and the realisation subsequent to publication that the reported values for the decomposition rate constant and the 1O2 quantum yield for the N, S co-doped graphene quantum dots (NS-GQD) are unreliable.

In Part S1 of the ESI the 1H-NMR data, 13C-NMR data, MALDI-TOF m/z data, and GPC data are copied from the data reported in ‘Copolythiophene-Derived Colorimetric and Fluorometric Sensor for Visually Supersensitive Determination of Lipopolysaccharide’, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012, 134, 6685–6694 for N,N-dimethyl-N′-(4-(thiophen-3-yl)benzyl)dodecan-1-aminium bromide (compound 4) and the corresponding homopolythiophene PT2. The 1H-NMR spectrum in Fig. S1b is copied from the 1H-NMR spectrum of compound 4 reported in Section 1.4 of the ESI of J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2012,134, 6685–6694.

We have been unable to reproduce the reported decomposition rate constant for ADPA with NS-GQD in subsequent experiments and therefore the reported rate constant cannot be relied upon. This was used in the calculation of the reported 1O2 quantum yield. Further to this we have discovered that the equation used to calculate the 1O2 quantum yield was incorrect and not the equation reported in Part S3 of the ESI. Therefore the reported 1O2 quantum yield of 1.26 used to support the conclusions of this paper is incorrect and the conclusions cannot be relied upon.

Signed: Rijun Gui and Hui Jin, 15th April 2015

Retraction endorsed by May Copsey, Executive Editor, Chemical Communications.

We emailed Gui for more information. Meanwhile, the journal tweeted this about the case:

That has led to some interesting discussion.

Hat tip: Mark Chadders

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Comments
  • Leonid Schneider May 27, 2015 at 2:48 pm

    This is what I call very smart indeed. Instead of being associated with a retracted paper and data manipulation, you resign as author. Maybe this will now become a common practice.

    • Neuroskeptic May 27, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      But maybe not so smart, since the names of Xifeng Liu, Zonghua Wang, Feifei Zhang, Jianfei Xia, Min Yang, Sai Bi and Yanzhi Xia now appear more prominently in the retraction notice than they otherwise would have.

      • Ken May 27, 2015 at 9:00 pm

        The journal still has them on the author list. I expect the only way to escape authorship is to show that your name was used fraudulently.

      • Leonid Schneider May 28, 2015 at 1:20 pm

        but it doesn’t matter! when asked, they’ll have official proof they have nothing to do with this ex-paper!

        • Neuroskeptic May 28, 2015 at 3:54 pm

          Perhaps, but if I were Xifeng Liu, Zonghua Wang, Feifei Zhang, Jianfei Xia, Min Yang, Sai Bi or Yanzhi Xia I would not want Retraction Watch to be the first thing that comes up when I Googled my name…

    • herr doktor bimler May 27, 2015 at 9:12 pm

      One possible reading of the editors’ explanation is that they decided — in the course of their investigation — that that seven of the nine authors were not involved in the work, and their presence in the list of authors was merely a pro-forma courtesy. Perhaps they all claimed (including the corresponding author) that the remaining two authors had signed them on without their permission.

      Could someone explain the professional affiliations in that original author list? Xifeng Liu lent his English-language expertise from the Department of Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA. The remaining eight are all affiliated to
      “Collaborative Innovation Center for Marine Biomass Fiber, Materials and Textiles of Shandong Province, Shandong Sino-Japanese Center for Collaborative Research of Carbon Nanomaterials, Laboratory of Fiber Materials and Modern Textiles, the Growing Base for State Key Laboratory, College of Chemical Science and Engineering, Qingdao University, Qingdao, P.R. China”.
      Is that one single institution, homogeneous, devoid of internal structure?

      Then in the abridged version, Rijun Gui and Hui Jin are simply at “The Growing Base for State Key Laboratory, Qingdao University, Qingdao”.

      • blatnoi May 27, 2015 at 9:47 pm

        Yeah, I know… I looked for the affiliation on the internet for about 10 minutes and couldn’t find it. The university seems to have a chemistry department, but no college of chemical science and engineering. It’s good to know that the mercuric (at least in English) chemistry school’s name will not be tarnished by this scandal. It’s just the growing base for a state key laboratory that will take a pruning.

      • Narad May 28, 2015 at 3:33 am

        Is that one single institution, homogeneous, devoid of internal structure?

        I make it to be four or five, but I’m a bit tired to actually split them up. (Changing “Growing” to “Cultivation” breaks out one axis.)

        I’ll note that Liu seems to have all sorts of author listings to tidy up.

        • herr doktor bimler May 28, 2015 at 7:54 am

          I make it to be four or five
          The problem is that any subdivisions into separate institutions which might exist are all subsumed by the single auctorial superscript ‘a’.

          • Narad May 28, 2015 at 2:13 pm

            The problem is that any subdivisions into separate institutions which might exist are all subsumed by the single auctorial superscript ‘a’.

            It’s not my fault that they didn’t hire someone who cleans that sort of mess up on a routine basis (*koff*).

          • Narad May 28, 2015 at 3:02 pm

            OK:

            The Shandong Sino-Japanese Center for Collaborative Research of Carbon Nanomaterials is separate.

            So is the “Growing Base for State Key Laboratory,” which appears to be a division of the State Key Laboratory of New Fiber Materials and Modern Textiles (and which I haven’t pinned down at the government level).

            The Collaborative Innovation Center for Marine Biomass Fiber, Materials and Textiles of Shandong Province would obviously be provincial and so different from the previous two.

            The College of Chemical Science and Engineering is simply the division of the university that everybody works for. So that’s four affilations.

          • Narad May 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm

            Last one.

            Upon further reflection, I suspect that there is no division within the Key Laboratory being denoted. If one toys around with the components of (one version of) the affiliation in Chinese, it may actually just be an “incubator lab.”

    • Michael Wise May 30, 2015 at 4:58 am

      The metaphorical rats deserting a sinking ship?

  • Sylvain Bernès May 27, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    I’ve read 3 times the notice, but I still don’t understand who ultimately did the experimental work in the published communication. Nobody?

    • Ken May 27, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Rijun Gui and Hui Jin, the two remaining authors. A more important question is what did the other 7 do that was academically important? Checking the English is not a valid reason. Authorship padding is one of the banes of academic publishing. My CV is bigger than your CV.

      Note that the journal has kept all authors. They presumably share my view that if you sign the papers agreeing to be an author, you are an author. Only in cases of fraud should authorship be removed.

      • Sylvain Bernès May 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm

        Wait wait. The remaining authors mention that the communication is eventually retracted because data were “fabricated” and analytical data “copied” from a JACS.
        In short: 7 co-authors did nothing and 2 co-authors also did nothing, unless they think that data fabrication may be considered as a genuine experimental work.
        I’m not kidding: perhaps more than 9 individuals are involved in the original submission.

  • blatnoi May 27, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    “Zonghua Wang, Feifei Zhang, Jianfei Xia, Min Yang, Sai Bi and Yanzhi Xia declare that they did not participate in the experimental research that was reported in this article.”

    That seems likely, since Zonghua Wang was the only corresponding author in the original article and we all know that professors just sit in the office writing grants and go to meetings all day. The other authors are from his lab probably, as their affiliation is the same, but their names came after his so it’s probably likely that it was just a vanity listing to improve CVs, thus I am certainly willing to believe the statement for them as well.

  • WayShe May 27, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Wow, this makes me wish there were an award for best retraction notice of the year.

    • herr doktor bimler May 28, 2015 at 7:48 am

      I second the suggestion, and propose that there could be multiple awards. Certainly one for “Minimalism Art Practice”.

    • Sylvain Bernès May 28, 2015 at 8:50 am

      I endorse the idea of awards, as long as positive awards are scheduled, for example “the most sincere retraction notice”, “the most heartbreaking retraction notice”, etc.
      The list of awarded notices could be published in the “Journal of Universal Rejection”.

  • Sneha Kulkarni May 28, 2015 at 3:30 am

    This is an interesting case that raises critical questions: Are the authors distancing themselves from the paper because it is being retracted; and if true, is this ethical? How can the journal let authors resign stating “the author list was incorrect”?

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