Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Researchers retract paper after they run out of breast milk

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ejcn

If you think something is amiss with your data, running an experiment again to figure out what’s going on is a good move. But it’s not always possible.

A team of researchers in Seoul recently found themselves in a bind when they needed to check their work, but were out of a key substance: breast milk.

The shortage led them to the retract their 2016 paper on a micronutrient found in breast milk that helps protect infants’ retinas. “Association between lutein intake and lutein concentrations in human milk samples from lactating mothers in South Korea,” was published online last spring in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 

Here’s the retraction notice: 

The authors have requested that this paper be retracted due to an unexpected discrepancy in the data, which has led to an error in the published results. The authors believe that the discrepancy is a result of improper handling or storage of standard material of lutein. As not enough of the human milk sample is left to carry out additional experiments, it has been concluded that the paper should be withdrawn.

Although breast milk is generally a renewable resource, it wasn’t in the case of this experiment: The researchers used milk from 99 women collected during a specific time-frame, along with information about their diets.

The editor in chief of EJCN, Manfred Müller, told us that the authors discovered the problems that felled the paper:

The authors themselves had decided to [re-analyze] their data which were included in an already accepted manuscript. They have then retracted their manuscript because of some inconsistencies. The editors had to accept that decision. Until now the authors did not send a revised version of their manuscript to EJCN.

We’ve reached out to last authors Ji A Jung, based at the Maeil Asia Human Milk R & D Center, and Namsoo Chang at the Ewha Womans University, both in Seoul, Korea. We were unable to find contact information for the first author, who is listed as H Kim at the Ewha Womans University. We’ll update this post if we receive any more information.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen 

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