Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Nature: No plans to change wording of STAP retractions

with 3 comments

cover_nature (2)Despite acknowledging in its own pages that two recent high-profile retraction notices turned out to not tell the whole story, Nature will not be updating the original retraction notices, the journal tells us.

We checked in with Nature after it published two Brief Communications Arising regarding two high-profile retractions of papers describing a new method of reprogramming cells to a pluripotent state. (This method is also known as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.)

We were particularly intrigued by the journal’s plans for the retractions, published in 2014, when an editorial in the September 23 issue about the new BCAs (here and here) suggested the wording of the notices might be problematic:

Why is Nature publishing these pieces? The main reason is to update the scientific record. The wording of the STAP retraction notices left open the possibility that the phenomenon was genuine. It said: “Multiple errors impair the credibility of the study as a whole and we are unable to say without doubt whether the STAP-SC phenomenon is real.” The two BCAs clearly establish that it is not.

We contacted the journal to ask whether the new information in the BCAs would lead them to tweak the wording of the retractions. A spokesperson told us the retraction notices for “Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency” and “Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency” would link to the two BCAs:

The Brief Communications Arising add to the published literature regarding the current status of the STAP papers. As such, the publications present a more complete summary and are linked bidirectionally with the papers and retraction notices.

But would the wording of the actual retraction notices change, we asked? Again, from the spokesperson:

The retraction notices will not change at this time. The Brief Communications Arising, which are linked to both the papers and the retraction notices, present a more complete summary.

While we obsess — in a good way, we like to think — about the wording of retraction notices, this seems like a perfectly good solution to us, with one caveat: That it be clear a fair amount has changed since the notice was published. And that’s where this falls down a bit. If you go to the retraction notices — here’s one — there are links to two BCAs, but there’s no sense of how important those are. A line describing each, instead of just a link to the phrase “Brief Communications Arising” and a date, seems like a good idea.

There’s our two cents, which is even fewer coins in UK currency.

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Comments
  • Raymond Wan October 12, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    I know it’s probably just me, but I don’t actually see a point to tie the BCAs to the retraction notices.

    The original STAP work was published, an investigation was conducted, and that led to the retraction notices. That appears to me to be an “open and closed case” that applies to the STAP research conducted in those papers.

    Should subsequent research (outside of the investigation and, presumably not officially commissioned by Nature) revise the retraction notice? Another related question (IMHO) is should subsequent research that discovers something that is contrary to previously published work make that earlier work become “retracted”? I would say “no” — this is what research is about. Provided that the earlier paper didn’t “lie” or do anything unethical, it should stand if it’s based on the knowledge at that point in time.

    If later research doesn’t result in the updating of old papers, why should later research update retraction notices? If later research *should* result in the updating of old work (including adding of retractions), then I have a long list of potential papers to be retracted in my reading list… Nature is being nice to readers by providing a link…with most other work, if subsequent research updates old research, there is no link — you just have to be in the area to “know”.

  • Jeanne Loring October 12, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    I would like to see the wording of the retraction notices be changed. We need to think about the historical perspective. In 10 years, this event will be rediscovered by young scientists. What impression do we want to give them?

  • Anonymous October 14, 2015 at 12:33 am

    I don’t care so much about the wording of the retraction notice any longer. That’s like flogging a dead horse. But what does concern me is that alot of people associated with this flawed, fake or fraudulent research profited over many years (salaries, grants, trave funds, conference fees, etc.). Yet, only Obokata was penalized a measly 6000 US$ (about 600,000 Japanese yen). Why are there no serious economic consequences for the individuals involved? It’s almost as if the focus has shifted towards the most trivial of issues.

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