An expert group at Uppsala University has recommended not proceeding with a full investigation into allegations of misconduct in a high-profile Science paper showing how human pollution may be harming fish.
The June paper — which caught the media’s attention for suggesting fish larvae are eating small particles of plastic rather than their natural prey — became the focus of scrutiny soon after it was published when a group of researchers raised allegations of misconduct. Earlier this year, Science told us it was considering issuing an Expression of Concern (EOC) for the paper, and Uppsala said it was conducting an inquiry, the first step in determining whether to launch a formal investigation.
The expert group who conducted the preliminary investigation has ultimately recommended against an investigation of the paper, according to an Uppsala spokesperson:
Their conclusion is that there is no evidence of research misconduct and that there are insufficient reasons for a full investigation.
The spokesperson added that the university has passed the matter onto the Central Ethical Review Board, which is also preparing a report:
Uppsala University will make a decision on this issue when both reports are available to make an overall assessment.
You can read the expert group’s report in full here. It details a response to each of the accusers’ specific complaints about the paper, noting when they believe the authors — Oona M. Lönnstedt, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Ecology and Genetics, and her supervisor, Peter Eklöv — had provided sufficient responses.
The investigators note that [the complainants] appear to have a very strong desire that the article be examined for research misconduct, but that the large majority of their objections come within the ambit of normal scholarly discussion, which could have been conducted directly with the authors of the article. The most serious accusations, which could potentially indicate misconduct, concern assertions that the experiments were not executed as asserted, and that Lönnstedt and Eklöv thus fabricated their data. The investigators have not found any evidence that this was the case.
However, the investigators note inadequate documentation of the research on the part of the accused, with necessary documentation only stored on one computer (which was subsequently stolen, as confirmed by the report of the theft to the police), and with a lack of back-up storage at Uppsala University. However, this cannot be judged to be a sign of any research misconduct.
Update 9/20/16 8 p.m. eastern: We’ve received a statement from Eklöv, who told us:
We are of course happy for the result from the investigating group where we were freed from all accusations. Although we have always been confident about our own innocence it is very stressful to be attacked by a group with the only purpose of discrediting our research.
Update 9/21/16 9:10 a.m. eastern: We’ve received a statement from Science about the paper:
The Science editorial staff awaits Uppsala University’s assessment of the validity of findings in the study by O.M. Lönnstedt and P. Eklöv. Once the Science editorial staff has sufficient information from Uppsala University, they can work to determine the most appropriate next steps.
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