Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

More co-author misconduct raises NIH neuroscientist’s retraction count to 8

with 8 comments

Stanley Rapoport. Source: NIH

Stanley Rapoport. Source: NIH

Not again.

That’s the sound of learning that a third scientist you worked with committed misconduct.

In the last two years, we reported on two retractions for neuroscientist Stanley Rapoport, the result of misconduct by two different first authors. We’ve since discovered more retractions resulting from those cases — and a new retraction stemming from the actions of yet another co-author.  

Although the latest retraction notice doesn’t reveal the reason for retraction, both the journal editor and Rapoport — based at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — confirmed to us that it is the result of misconduct by the last author, Jagadeesh Rao. According to Rapoport, a “number of retractions [for] Rao are still in the works.”

We asked Rapoport for his reaction to multiple cases of misconduct by his colleagues, including the two first authors we’ve already reported on, Fei Gao and Mireille Basselin:

The misconduct, as I now understand it, was very technical and outside of my areas of expertise.  In retrospect, I don’t think I could have spotted the  misconduct earlier.  Data were presented at internal meetings, when the misconduct was not identified. Basselin and Gao and Rao had PhDs and strong letters of recommendation.

He added:

In these days of complex interdisciplinary research, one depends on the trustworthiness of colleagues who use methodologies with which one has no personal experience. I regret missing the falsifications  by Dr. Rao…

George Perry, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (JAD), told us he received a request to retract from Rapoport, which noted that Rao had falsified data in the paper that affected some of the figures.

Perry, based at the University of Texas at San Antonio, noted that the request to retract he received from Rapoport said that Rao was solely responsible for the misconduct.

Rapoport explained further:

The misconduct was discovered finally when others in the lab tried to repeat some of the measurements.

Rao performed [molecular] biology measurements on brain extract, Basselin measured enzyme activities of brain extract, and Gao used GC/MS and other analytical techniques for measuring heavy isotope concentrations in rat plasma.

Rapoport added:

Gao and Basselin had left the NIH by the time the errors were discovered.  I don’t know about actions taken. A number of retractions [for] Rao are still in the works. He appears to have made the same mistakes in many of his contributions.

A spokesperson for the NIA sent us this statement:

NIH takes allegations of research misconduct seriously.  NIH does not discuss whether or not a research misconduct proceeding is taking place, and does not comment on ongoing or completed proceedings.  The HHS Office of Research Integrity (ORI) oversees and directs Public Health Service (PHS) research integrity activities on behalf of HHS.  After NIH makes a finding of research misconduct, it informs ORI of the finding. Once it has reported to ORI, NIH may, if necessary, make disclosures under certain conditions to professional journals, research collaborators, and others concerning the NIH finding and the need to correct or retract research results or reports that have been affected by research misconduct.  All ORI findings of research misconduct are posted on the HHS Office of Research Integrity website: http://ori.hhs.gov/.

Here’s the JAD‘s brief retraction notice, issued earlier this month:

IOS Press has retracted the following publication from its online content:

[Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 26 (4) (2011), 755-766, DOI: 10.3233/JAD-2011-110002]

Disturbed Neurotransmitter Transporter Expression in Alzheimer’s Disease Brain

Kevin H. Chen, Edmund A. Reese, Hyung-Wook Kim, Stanley I. Rapoport and Jagadeesh S. Rao

Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

The 2011 study, “Disturbed Neurotransmitter Transporter Expression in Alzheimer’s Disease Brain,” has been cited 46 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

We contacted Rao via three email addresses; the NIA one bounced, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (which is also part of the NIH) email address returned an automated out of office message saying Rao is on “extended leave,” and his NIH email address did not return any message. 

We’ve also found five retractions for papers co-authored by Rapoport that we previously missed, all due to the actions of Rapoport’s other co-authors, Fei Gao and Mireille Basselin. Four of the notices cite misconduct by Fei Gao.

In total, Gao’s misconduct has led to five retractions, while the current numbers for Basselin and Rao stand at two and one, respectively.

First, here’s the retraction notice for three papers pulled by Rapoport in the Journal of Lipid Research (JLR) in May, 2014:

The following three articles were withdrawn by Dr. Stanley Rapoport after an investigation by the National Institute of Health found that Dr. Fei Gao engaged in research misconduct by fabricating and/or falsifying data in this article. Please note that none of the other authors were implicated in any way.

Whole-body synthesis-secretion rates of long-chain n-3 PUFAs from circulating unesterified α-linolenic acid in unanesthetized rats. J. Lipid Res. 2009. 50: 749–758. Fei Gao, Dale Kiesewetter, Lisa Chang, Kaizong Ma, Jane M. Bell, Stanley I. Rapoport, and Miki Igarashi.

Quantifying conversion of linoleic to arachidonic and other n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in unanesthetized rats. J. Lipid Res. 2010. 51: 2940–2946. Fei Gao, Dale Kiesewetter, Lisa Chang, Stanley I. Rapoport, and Miki Igarashi.

Whole-body synthesis secretion of docosahexaenoic acid from circulating eicosapentaenoic acid in unanesthetized rats. J. Lipid Res. 2009. 50: 2463–2470. Fei Gao, Dale Kiesewetter, Lisa Chang, Kaizong Ma, Stanley I. Rapoport, and Miki Igarashi.

Here are more details of the three retracted JLR papers:

  • “Whole-body synthesis-secretion rates of long-chain n-3 PUFAs from circulating unesterified alpha-linolenic acid in unanesthetized rats,” published in 2009, cited 31 times.
  • “Quantifying conversion of linoleic to arachidonic and other n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in unanesthetized rats,” 2010 paper, cited eight times.
  • “Whole-body synthesis secretion of docosahexaenoic acid from circulating eicosapentaenoic acid in unanesthetized rats,” 2009 paper, 15 citations.

Next is a retraction notice issued in February last year in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) – Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids — again, citing misconduct by Gao:

This article has been retracted at the request of the authors. An investigation conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that the author Dr. Fei Gao engaged in research misconduct by fabricating and/or falsifying data in Figs. 2–4 and Table 2. Therefore Dr Gao’s co-authors requested full retraction. Please note that none of the other authors were implicated in any way.

The 2011 study, “Liver conversion of docosahexaenoic and arachidonic acids from their 18-carbon precursors in rats on a DHA-free but α-LNA-containing n−3 PUFA adequate diet,” has accumulated 12 citations.

Finally, here’s a retraction notice published in August, 2015 in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism — this time mentioning misconduct by Basselin:

This article has been retracted by the Editors in Chief at the request of the author Stanley I Rapoport following the finding of the National Institutes of Health that Dr Mireille Basselin engaged in research misconduct by fabricating data in Figure 4A–C and Figure 5B. None of the other authors are implicated in any way.

The 2010 study, “Imaging upregulated brain arachidonic acid metabolism in HIV-1 transgenic rats,” has garnered 26 citations.

Regarding Rao, Rapoport added:

I do not have access to the NIH investigation report,  the details of Dr. Rao’s falsifications, or to issues about any action taken against Dr. Rao by the NIH.

We weren’t able to find current contact details for Rao, Gao, or Basselin.

We asked Rapoport for Rao’s current contact details, more details on Rao’s upcoming retractions, and whether Gao or Basselin have any more retractions pending. He told us: 

I don’t have them. I don’t have much more to say on this unfortunate situation.

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Comments
  • Michael December 1, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    As great as interdisciplinary research sounds in theory, this case highlights why many of us working scientists shy away from collaborations, particularly with people outside our area of expertise.

  • Paul A Thompson December 1, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    The issue here, as in many cases, may be the “sole expert” issue. When you have a sole expert, that person cannot be checked by others. From the text: “Rao performed [molecular] biology measurements on brain extract, Basselin measured enzyme activities of brain extract, and Gao used GC/MS and other analytical techniques for measuring heavy isotope concentrations in rat plasma.” These all sound fairly specialized. If these were the sole professionals performing this function, who was to check to ensure that things were being done correctly? This is a common issue in many cases of dodgy research. The PI is responsible for arranging a checking method for such cases. Taking the word of a researcher may not be sufficient.

  • Ralph Giorno MD December 1, 2016 at 4:59 pm

    Does this guy still have a taxpayer-funded job at NIH?

  • D Cameron December 1, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    I am relieved to read that Rapoport, the PI of all the projects for which the retracted papers are attached, is so sanguine about the entire affair (“In retrospect, I don’t think I could have spotted the misconduct”). In reaching that comfortable conclusion he is no doubt aided greatly by “not hav[ing] access to the NIH investigation report, [or to] the details of Dr. Rao’s falsifications.”

    This (ongoing?) episode serves as yet another example – as if more were needed – that when it comes to research misconduct, it’s good to be the king.

  • John Krueger December 2, 2016 at 12:46 am

    The existence of these retractions from one lab in in the intramural NIH raises an long dormant question as to why (relative to the extramural NIH supported research) so few cases of ‘problem’ research arise within the intramural program?

    In 2004, with help from Gary Lipshultz (also at ORI), I looked at the relation between funding and opened misconduct cases. We started with the investigative database of the Division of Investigative Oversight (DIO), (ORI). (Opening a ORI “case” required a significant allegation of “F,F,P” in “proposing, conducting, or reporting of research” (42 CFR 50) related to an application or an award from the NIH. Institutional NIH funding data was taken from http://grants1.nih.gov/grants/awardtr.htm/. The analysis was restricted to the “top” 100 NIH – funded institutions for 1992-2002. The incidence of opened “cases,” “investigations,” and PHS “findings” of scientific misconduct was examined in relation to rank and NIH funding (projected from FY 2002 levels).

    Results: The top funded-100 institutions accounted for 261 ORI opened cases, 187 investigations, and 93 PHS findings of scientific misconduct (1992-2002). The NIH intramural program contributed 15 opened cases. Institutional case-activity was highly variable, but the cumulative increase in cases, investigations, and findings showed smooth and direct relationships to the cumulative increase in institutional funding (R2 often >0.98.). A “rule-of-thumb” figure that emerged from the regressions, and that applied across the mid range of the institutions, is “1-case-year/$300M in grant awards” [in2002 dollars].

    Could the questioned research at any institution can be assessed relative to the mean and variance that characterizes the whole group? In fact, there was little divergence in reporting from the number of cases expected from the funding, but with one exception: the 15 cases opened from the NIH intramural program was 14.85 standard deviations below what one would expect from the numbers predicted from the extramural NIH funded research.

    So, these reports from the NIH don’t surprise me. What is unanswered is why there aren’t so much more? A high NIH Official claimed at the time that my perception of “under-reporting” was due to the fact that the NIH budget included “bricks and mortar.” That is a lot of concrete!

  • fernandopessoa March 7, 2017 at 3:57 am

    2017 retraction of:
    J Neurochem. 2013 Apr;125(1):63-73. doi: 10.1111/jnc.12153. Epub 2013 Feb 17.
    Aging is associated with altered inflammatory, arachidonic acid cascade, and synaptic markers, influenced by epigenetic modifications, in the human frontal cortex.
    Keleshian VL1, Modi HR, Rapoport SI, Rao JS.
    Author information
    1Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section, Laboratory of Neurosciences, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892-0947, USA.

    2017 retraction.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jnc.12153/epdf

  • fernandopessoa March 7, 2017 at 3:58 am
  • fernandopessoa March 7, 2017 at 4:02 am

    2017 retraction of:
    J Neurochem. 2007 Sep;102(6):1918-27. Epub 2007 May 10.
    Chronic NMDA administration to rats up-regulates frontal cortex cytosolic phospholipase A2 and its transcription factor, activator protein-2.
    Rao JS1, Ertley RN, Rapoport SI, Bazinet RP, Lee HJ.
    Author information
    1Brain Physiology and Metabolism Section, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.

    2017 retraction notice.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jnc.13947/epdf

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