Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Researcher who sued to stop retractions gets his sixth

with 3 comments

Mario Saad

Mario Saad

A sixth retraction has appeared for a diabetes researcher who previously sued a publisher to try to stop his papers from being retracted.

Mario Saad‘s latest retraction, in PLOS Biology, stems from inadvertent duplications, according to the authors.  Though an investigation at Saad’s institution — the University of Campinas in Brazil — found no evidence of misconduct, a critic of the paper told The Scientist he does not believe that the issues with blots were inadvertent.

Previously, Saad sued the American Diabetes Association to remove four expressions of concern from his papers; they were later retracted, even though Unicamp recommended keeping three of them published.

Here’s the new retraction notice, for “Gut Microbiota Is a Key Modulator of Insulin Resistance in TLR 2 Knockout Mice:”

The authors and editors retract this publication following an investigation into concerns around the data presented in several figures that were brought to the editors’ attention. The text below has been agreed to by the editors, the first author (who was a PhD student at the time of publication), the corresponding author and most of the co-authors. All co-authors have been informed.

Concerns were raised about Figures 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10, and Figure S6. The authors state that although the data described were correctly obtained with high reproducibility, they inadvertently used the wrong blots in several figures resulting in duplications. The blots in question are Beta-Actin for Figures 1J, 5E, 6F, 7F, 8L, 10I, and S6A and C; IRS-1 for Figure 4G and I; Akt for Figure 7G; pJNK for Figure 4C, 10E and F; and IR for Figure S6B. In Figure 6C (Akt) and 6D (pJNK) one extra band was inadvertently included because the authors used an extra sample from the WT control mouse. In Figure 8J (Beta-Actin) there is one band missing. For Figures 10B and S6A upper panel, the authors did not indicate that the lanes 2 and 3 were non-contiguous. It should be noted specifically that the co-authors from collaborating groups (AC, PV & NOSC) were not involved in the preparation of these figures.

An institutional inquiry has been undertaken at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paulo, Brazil and while the investigation acknowledged these errors, they did not find evidence of research misconduct. The authors maintain that the errors do not affect the interpretation of the results nor the conclusions of the study. However, the authors accept that the preparation of the figures fell below the standard of publication and therefore the authors and editors agree that the correct action is to retract the article. The authors apologize to the scientific community and will seek to publish a corrected manuscript version corroborating the findings of this work.

The 2011 paper has been cited 100 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

The Scientist reports the backstory:

Commenters first raised concerns about portions of the team’s paper on the journal’s website and at the post-publication peer review website PubPeer in 2013 and 2014, respectively. This March, one of the commenters, Paul Brookes of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, published an open letter to PLOS Biology, calling for the paper’s retraction.

Brookes is skeptical of the excuse offered in the retraction notice. He told The Scientist:

I find the authors’ claim that the blot irregularities were ‘inadvertent’ to be completely unbelievable.

A reader also posted a comment about the paper on PubMed.

First author Andrea Caricilli told The Scientist:

I believe that the retraction note contains all the information that is necessary.

By our count, Saad now has six retractions (four of which were each preceded by EOCs), three EOCs that are still standing, and one mega-correction.

Update, May 24th 11:30 AM EST:
Because The Scientist reported that the journal originally planned to issue an expression of concern, we contacted the journal to ask why it ultimately issued a retraction.
A spokesperson for PLOS told us:

The authors agreed to retract the manuscript so there was no need to issue an Expression of Concern.

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Comments
  • Dave Fernig May 24, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Still well off the leaderboard. I think the latter needs revamping to make it more competitive. There could be a First Division (top 30), a Second Division, with of course a keenly fought promotion and relegation between divisions. Those with few retractions and those caught ‘Doing the Right Thing” would be out of the competition, due to being so inept that they cannot manage a decent hat trick of retractions that spread a bit of a cloud.

    • Ed Rigdon May 24, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      I also would love to see stories of researchers getting booted off the leaderboard for gregariously responsible conduct. With all the excuses offered when a retraction, correction or EOC happens, it would be nice to see reports of researchers taking actual steps to prevent similar events in the future, like establishing new laboratory protocols. After all, science is about learning from failure.

  • Paul Brookes May 24, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    In addition to the dissatisfying lack of explanation for why it took PLoS 3 years to do anything about this after initially being informed of problems, the retraction notice does not mention these potential issues with the paper:

    – Figure 6C vs. Fig. 7G AKT blots appear to be different exposures of the same image.
    – Figure 7G, AKT blot, right-most 6 lanes appear to be the same as b-actin bands in Figure 8L.
    – Figure 7G, b-actin blot, right-most 6 lanes appear to be the same as AKT blot in Figure 8J.
    – Figure 6B IB pAKT blot (top image) has a discontinuity along top edge, indicative of potential splicing/discontinuity.
    – Figure 4O IB:IkB-a blot appears the same as Figure 10E IB:pJNK blot.
    – Figure 4M IB:IkB-a blot appears the same as Figure 10F IB:pJNK blot.
    – As documented here (http://www.psblab.org/?p=495), the paper also contains sections of text that appear to overlap with another paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2883353/)

    Regarding the overlap, the source paper came from Gary Sweeney at York University Ontario, and his lab’ website lists Rafael Lambertucci as a former trainee (http://www.yorku.ca/gsweeney/people_past.html). Before and after that, Lambertucci worked with Mario Saad’s colleague Rui Curi.

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