Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

PLOS ONE retracts 2 malaria papers over doubts experiments ever took place

with 4 comments

PLOS One

Authors have retracted a pair of PLOS ONE papers after an investigation suggested the articles might contain some fiction.

In the papers, the authors describe collecting and analyzing the DNA of mosquitoes to look for changes following the introduction of bed nets treated with insecticides to combat malaria. However, an investigation by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in France could not confirm some of the experiments ever took place.

Here’s the retraction notice for “How the Malaria Vector Anopheles gambiae Adapts to the Use of Insecticide-Treated Nets by African Populations,” which appears at the top of the paper:

The authors of this article have requested retraction on the basis of concerns about the experimental work and the integrity of the reported data.

An institutional investigation was conducted; the enquiry did not locate the samples which underlie the analyses reported in the article and was unable to verify that the mosquito dissections had taken place. In light of the findings from the enquiry, the direction of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement support the retraction of the article.

In light of the above concerns, the authors retract this publication.

The 2014 paper has been cited nine times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. The paper notes that first author Mamadou Ousmane Ndiath — listed as affiliated with Institut Pasteur of Bangui, in the Central African Republic — performed the experiments.

The retraction notice for the other paper, “Resistance to DDT and Pyrethroids and Increased kdr Mutation Frequency in An. gambiae after the Implementation of Permethrin-Treated Nets in Senegal,” is very similar:

The authors of this article have requested retraction on the basis of concerns about the experimental work and the integrity of the reported data.

An institutional investigation was conducted; the enquiry could not verify that the experiments underlying the results reported in the article had taken place. In light of the findings from the enquiry, the direction of the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement support the retraction of the article.

In light of the above concerns, the authors retract this publication.

The 2012 paper has been cited 21 times. Here, the experiments were performed by Ndiath and two other researchers, all associated with the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement during the time of the research.

A spokesperson for PLOS told us:

One of the authors contacted the editorial office in relation to the concerns about the work reported in the article. The experiments questioned related to the dissection and DNA extraction from mosquitoes and the traceability of work testing the presence of the kdr gene. The decision for retraction was reached following an investigation by the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement.

In addition to first author Ndiath, the papers share a last author, Jean-François Trape, and two co-authors, Catherine Mazenot and Cheikh Sokhna. All are affiliated with the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement.

Sokhna told us that he agrees with the results of the investigation, and plans to redo some of the work.

We have reached out to Ndiath and Trape, and to the institution.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

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Comments
  • MannyHM June 9, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Indeed, how do you (publisher and editor) verify if indeed this study or experiment ever took place ? The policy at present is based on the premise that every researcher who submit a paper are honest which is quite unrealistic.

  • Anonymous June 9, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    MannyHM, this is a brilliant observation. In essence, to be fair to these authors, the publisher should independently verify that experiments were actually conducted in every single study published in PLOS ONE. It really makes you think how many papers out there (not only PLOS ONE) are partially or fully fictitious, and how many are benefiting from this. Scary, very scary!

  • Ken June 9, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    In reply to the other two comments, the reason that it is not possible to check is that it is relatively expensive and impossible to be perfectly sure that it has happened if an experimenter wants to be fraudulent. At the least someone has to go through the notes etc and check that they do exist. Someone may have to confirm that computer files match to original documents. For a committed fraudster they will just go to greater lengths to create the original documentation.

  • Sharon O'Connor June 10, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Which is why reproducing research is so important. It is just as important, perhaps more important, to reproduce research for this exact reason. Journals should learn from this but they never seem to. Getting reproduced research published is very difficult.

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