Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Stolen data prompts Science to flag debated study of fish and plastics

with 5 comments

scienceIn August, Science told us it was considering adding an Expression of Concern to a high-profile paper about how human pollution is harming fish — and yesterday, the journal did it.

The move comes after a group of researchers alleged the paper contains missing data, and the authors followed a problematic methodology. In September, however, the co-authors’ institution, Uppsala University in Sweden, concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to launch a misconduct investigation.

The notice from Science stems from the theft of a computer carrying some of the paper’s raw data, making it impossible to reproduce some of its findings:

In the 3 June issue, Science published the Report “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology” by Oona M. Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv (1). The authors have notified Science of the theft of the computer on which the raw data for the paper were stored. These data were not backed up on any other device nor deposited in an appropriate repository. Science is publishing this Editorial Expression of Concern to alert our readers to the fact that no further data can be made available, beyond those already presented in the paper and its supplement, to enable readers to understand, assess, reproduce or extend the conclusions of the paper.

“Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology” caught the media’s attention for suggesting fish larvae are eating small particles of plastic rather than their natural prey. It became the focus of scrutiny soon after it was published when a group of researchers raised allegations of misconduct, even submitting a formal letter outlining their concerns.

We contacted corresponding author Oona M. Lönnstedt, and received an out-of-office message.

According to a news story in Science, the laptop was stolen out of the car of Lönnstedt’s husband only days after the paper was published, and there is no backup. The news story provides more details of the critics’ concerns about the paper, which Lönnstedt denies.

Although Uppsala appeared to clear both authors of misconduct, the news story notes:

…a second investigation, by Sweden’s Central Ethical Review Board, is still ongoing. Science editor Andrew Sugden says the journal initially wanted to wait for this board’s verdict before taking action, but decided to publish the expression of concern because the board has taken longer than expected and readers needed to know data for the paper are missing. (Science requires raw data to be published on its website as supplementary online material or placed in an online archive such as the Dryad Digital Repository; the UU team failed to deposit all of its data when the paper was published.)

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Comments
  • Paul A Thompson December 2, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    “The authors have notified Science of the theft of the computer on which the raw data for the paper were stored. These data were not backed up on any other device nor deposited in an appropriate repository. ”

    The dog ate their homework. Absolutely irresponsible. No excuse here. Not backed up – beyond belief.

    • Warrick December 2, 2016 at 2:48 pm

      One has to wonder – is being proven incompetent the lesser of two evils?

      • Paul A Thompson December 3, 2016 at 8:53 am

        My data is automatically backed up by the systems of my organization. In fact, to NOT back it up takes extra work. Most organizations are like that. If you follow the rules and store the data on official places, it is backed up. Thus, to not have a back-up copy sounds dubious.

  • Clarence A Williams December 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    Loss of data that was supposed to be archived at publication? Automatic retraction. No need to call the researchers liars.

  • Dave Burton December 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Agreed. One wonders why Science is dragging their feet?

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