Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Boldt’s retraction count upped to 94, co-author takes legal action to prevent 95th

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We’ve found two recent retractions and an expression of concern for Joachim Boldt, former prominent anesthesiologist and currently Retraction Watch leaderboard’s 2nd place titleholder. He now has 94 retractions.

One of the retracted articles contains falsified data, along with a researcher who didn’t agree to be a co-author, according to an investigation by the Justus Liebig University Giessen, where Boldt used to work. The expression of concern is regarding some questionable data. The other new retraction is actually one of 88 papers that a group of editors agreed to retract back in 2011, after they were “unable to verify” approval by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the studies.

One of those 88 papers, we’ve discovered, has still has not been retracted. According to an editor at the journal, they haven’t removed it because one of Boldt’s co-authors has threatened them with legal action.

Last we reported on Boldt, he had three new retractions which, like one of the new ones, also involved data manipulation. Some of his other retractions have stemmed from inadequate ethics approval.

One of the newly pulled papers, “The effect of the anticoagulation regimen on endothelial-related coagulation in cardiac surgery patients,” was published in Anaesthesia and has 13 citations, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Here’s the retraction note, published in August:

The above article [1] from Anaesthesia, published online on 22 February 2007 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) and in Volume 50, No. 11, pp. 954-960, has been retracted by agreement between the Journal Editor-in-Chief, Steve Yentis, John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Dr Matthias Wittstock, who was wrongly named as a co-author of said article. This article is being retracted because investigation by the Justus Liebig University Giessen, where the research took place, has concluded that the original study was conducted properly by Dr Wittstock but that there are significant discrepancies between some of the results published in this article and those in the original practical work undertaken by Dr Wittstock, leading to the conclusion that some of the data included in this article appear to have been falsified by a third party. In addition, Dr Wittstock did not give permission for his study to be used as a basis for this article and was not aware that he was named as a co-author of this article.

We contacted Steve Yentis, the EIC of Anaesthesia to see if the investigation affected any other papers in the journal — he said,

None that I know of!

The other newly retracted paper is “Postoperative analgosedation with S(+)-ketamine decreases the incidences of postanesthetic shivering and nausea and vomiting after cardiac surgery.” It was published in Medical Science Monitor, cited two times, and on the 2011 list of Boldt papers that should be retracted.

In fact, it was retracted in the course of reporting this very post. When we found that it had not yet been retracted, we emailed the EIC of Medical Science Monitor, George Stefano, who told us:

Thanks for bringing this matter to my attention – yes we are retracting it. Years ago I had a medical issue and many things fell behind the closet.

A couple hours later, the title of the study was updated with a red [RETRACTED] label (though no formal note yet).

As to the paper that still has not been retracted, called “Prophylaxe von postoperativer Übelkeit und postoperativem Erbrechen” in Der Anaesthesist, one of Springer’s managing editor’s, Werner Roessling, told us:

This article could not be retracted because the corresponding author took legal  action against us. We could not prove that the authors had not filed the papers concerning ethical requirements correctly. The authors claimed they had done so, papers proving this could not be found in the Ministry of Health in Mainz, however, the minimum storage time had expired. The time span for storing these papers expires after some years.

The corresponding author is Swen Piper, an anesthesiologist at Stadtklinik Frankenthal clinic in Germany. We’ve sent him an email, and will update this post if we hear back.

This isn’t the first time journals have faced legal threats from authors. Diabetes researcher Mario Saad has repeatedly turned to courts to try to remove expressions of concern for some of his papers, and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently retracted a paper after a judge denied the first author’s motion for an injunction.

A 2014 analysis in PLOS ONE, “Fate of Articles That Warranted Retraction Due to Ethical Concerns: A Descriptive Cross-Sectional Study” included some other instances involving Boldt (most of which have now been resolved):

Two publishers mentioned legal threats from Boldt’s co-authors that prevented them from retracting a total of six articles in three journals.

As that study points out, Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines advise not to let an author’s threats of legal action stop a retraction in its tracks:

Authors who disagree with a retraction (or whose request to retract a publication is refused) sometimes threaten journal editors with legal action. Concern over litigation can make editors reluctant to retract articles, especially in the face of opposition from authors….

Whenever possible, editors should negotiate with authors and attempt to agree a form of wording that is clear and informative to readers and acceptable to all parties. If authors consent to the wording of a retraction statement, this provides defence against a libel claim. However, prolonged negotiations about wording should not be allowed to delay the publication of a retraction unreasonably and editors should publish retractions even if consensus cannot be reached.

The study on Boldt’s retractions — co-authored by Elizabeth Wager, a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Scientific Integrity, our parent organization — concludes:

Guidelines for retracting articles are incompletely followed. The role of publishers in the retraction process needs to be clarified and standards are needed on marking retracted articles. It remains unclear who should check that retractions are done properly. Legal safeguards are required to allow retraction of articles against the wishes of authors.

Last but not least, here’s the EOC issued in June, from Shock (emphasis ours):

It has been brought to the attention of the Editor and the Publication Committee for the Shock Society that a previously published article in Shock contains inconsistencies that may alter data interpretation. The article of concern is:

Boldt J, Wollbruck M, Menges T, Diridis K, Hempelmann G. Changes in regulators of circulation in patients undergoing continuous pump-driven veno-venous hemofiltration. Shock 1994;2(3):157–163 [PMID: 7743344].

Specifically, the published article states that the patient cohort was selected prospectively, whereas the original data published in the thesis by Dr. Fotini Kristina Michaela Diridis describes the study as being conducted in a retrospective manner. As the original thesis was published in German, the matter was referred to Justus-Liebig University (JLU), Giessen, where the research was performed, for corroboration. On January 26, 2015, we received a letter from the ombudsperson of JLU confirming the difference between the published article in Shock and the original thesis. Although the data per se in theShock article have not been questioned, after review, the ombudsperson has indicated the following in his letter to the journal: “In view of the inconsistencies and Dr. Boldt’s misconduct in this and many other aspects of scientific integrity, JLU recommends that journal editors retract all papers where Dr. Boldt is the responsible author even if there is no obvious indication of falsification. All articles by Dr. Boldt should be read with great caution because they may contain falsified data.” Pertinent to the current case, while conclusive evidence about the reliability of the data contained within the publication is lacking, there is sufficient uncertainty regarding its overall merit that we post this Expression of Concern.

We’ve read those bolded words before, in a letter JLU sent to a number of editors last month.

Additional reporting by Alison Abritis

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Comments
  • Anonymous October 12, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    The co-author’s logic doesn’t seem to make sense to me. Surely, he should be taking legal action against his co-author? The journal is a mere victim.

  • genetics October 13, 2015 at 11:26 am

    “JLU recommends that journal editors retract all papers where Dr. Boldt is the responsible author even if there is no obvious indication of falsification.”

    Wow, that is quite a statement. Sure, Boldt is an extreme case. But without indiction of falsification (and may I add: of any other misconduct or error)? I would rather see an expression of concern in such a case. It is painful, but those who claim something is foul should have to prove it. After all, you cannot fully exclude that he did do some studies correctly…..

    If the time for record keeping is over and all records are legally destroyed, then no one can prove anything either way. That is also a situation where you cannot demand a retraction unless the misconduct can be directly seen in the manuscript without looking at the primary data/study protocol or what ever…..

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