Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

The “results should not be published:” Company confidentiality agreement squashes two insecticide papers

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AMTWest Virginia University biologists have retracted two papers on insecticides for fruit pests due to a confidentiality agreement with a chemical manufacturer stating that the “results should not be published.”

The retracted 2014 articles in Arthropod Management Tests, “Control of Internal Lepidoptera and other insect pests in apple, 2013” and “Control of Oriental Fruit Moth and other insect pests in peach, 2013,” were written by WVU entomologist Daniel Frank and plant pathologist Alan Biggs.

We’ve been unable to find abstracts for the papers, but here is a sister paper Frank and Biggs published in 2012,“Control of Internal Lepidoptera and other insect pests in apple, 2012,” evaluating various insecticides for the control of internal lepidoptera on an experimental plot of Red Delicious apple trees in West Virginia.

Here’s the to-the-point retraction note, which is identical for each paper:

Due to a confidentiality agreement signed by the authors with the manufacturer involving the experimental chemical used in this trial, which stipulated that the results should not be published, the authors are retracting this article from Arthropod Management Tests.

We reached out to the authors, and Frank clarified how publication occurred despite the confidentiality agreement:

At the time I submitted the below report to Arthropod Management Tests I was unaware of a confidentiality agreement concerning one of the products tested.  When I became aware of the agreement I contacted the journal to pull the paper before it was published.  There were some editorial staff changes during this time and the paper slipped through and made it into the final production process before it was finally pulled; hence the retraction statement.

According to the publisher, Frank indeed contacted the journal about the issue “well before publication.” Matthew Jozwiak, senior editor for science and medicine at Oxford University Press, AMT‘s publisher, told us:

The author of “CONTROL OF INTERNAL LEPIDOPTERA AND OTHER INSECT PESTS IN APPLE” emailed the then-editor-in-chief of Arthropod Management Tests in mid-2014, well before publication of our 2014 volume, to withdraw both “CONTROL OF INTERNAL LEPIDOPTERA AND OTHER INSECT PESTS IN APPLE” and “CONTROL OF ORIENTAL FRUIT MOTH AND OTHER INSECT PESTS IN PEACH, 2013” from publication due to a confidentiality agreement the authors were under. The then-editor-in-chief resigned shortly afterward, so there was a disruption in communication, and the papers were not actually withdrawn as the author had requested. The new editor-in-chief was unaware of the withdrawal, so those papers were sent on to production.

The author later contacted the journal to confirm that the papers had been withdrawn, but in a case of unfortunate timing, he contacted us the day the papers went online. Under advice from our legal department, because of the confidentiality agreement and the prior request to withdraw the papers, we retracted both papers. Arthropod Management Tests papers are very short (2 pages on average) and don’t have abstracts so it was necessary to remove the entire articles, replacing them with the current notice of retraction.

Arthropod Management Tests submissions and author communications are currently handled by email, which unfortunately increases the chance of miscommunication like this taking place. We’re in the process of developing an online manuscript submission system for future volumes of Arthropod Management Tests, which will help us avoid similar problems in the future.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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Comments
  • D G Rossiter June 4, 2015 at 8:01 am

    The bigger question is why is a publicaly-funded university working with industry and not able to publish their results for the benefit of the taxpaying public?

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