Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Author with seven retractions makes Thomson Reuters list of top scientists — plus another twist

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Bharat Aggarwal

A cancer researcher who recently retired from MD Anderson Cancer Center —  and also recently lost seven papers from one journal following a multi-year investigation — is one of the world’s top scientists, according to a new ranking.

In Thomson Reuters Web of Science’s 2015 list of The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds, Bharat Aggarwal’s name tops the section for Pharmacology and Toxicology (see p. 89). In all fairness, the list is presented in alphabetical order, and seven of Aggarwal’s papers have each been cited at least 1,000 times. But in addition to his recent seven retractions, he has has six corrections, two unexplained withdrawals, and two Expressions of Concern.

We contacted Thomson Reuters Web of Science to inquire, and a spokesperson told us:

We list all highly cited researchers in alphabetical order for the 21 fields covered in this report.  This is why Dr. Aggarwal is at at the top of the list for the field Pharmacology and Toxicology.

We do pay attention to retracted articles and they are not counted. The methodology for identifying The Word’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2015 is based on highly cited papers from 2003-2013.  For more information read the methodology and purpose of this program.

There is a threshold of papers required for each of the 21 fields recognized in The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2015.  Dr. Aggrawal was selected for his research in toxicology.  In the case of Dr. Aggarwal he has 17 highly cited papers, none of which have been retracted. Our threshold for highly cited papers in the field of Pharmacology and Toxicology is a minimum of five.  In this case Dr. Aggrawal qualifies and it would not remove him from our list of highly cited papers.

Aggarwal has apparently moved on from MD Anderson — to the Anti-inflammation Research Institute in San Diego, where he is founder and director, according to a recent article in Times of India. We did a search for the facility, but were unable to find a website.

This week, the Houston Chronicle covered Aggarwal’s retirement and retractions, and included a comment from his lawyer:

Aggarwal’s attorney, Paul Thaler, said the researcher “stands behind the scientific soundness of each of his papers.” He acknowledged “some minor mistakes were made,” but said no retractions or expressions of concern were needed because the mistakes “had no effect on the integrity of the scientific conclusions in the paper.”

We have a long history with Aggarwal — after he told us in 2012 that MD Anderson was investigating his work, he later threatened to sue us for reporting on the case.

But there’s another twist to the story, and that’s the identity of the person stepping into Aggarwal’s endowed chair position (the Ransom Horne, Jr. Professorship for Cancer Research) at MD Anderson. That would be Keith Baggerly, whose name should be familiar to our readers: Baggerly is a bioinformatician who helped expose the flaws in the work by now-discredited cancer researcher Anil Potti.

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Written by Alison McCook

March 3rd, 2016 at 9:30 am