A researcher who claimed image problems in a retracted paper were the result of a software glitch, and not intentional, has lost three more papers — all for image manipulation.
In two notices, the Journal of Biological Chemistry specifies that duplicated images were used to represent different experimental conditions; one notice simply says the paper was affected by image manipulation.
All of the notices specify the papers are being retracted by the publisher, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology — which this month published a set of recommendations for preparing a paper, including how to avoid excessive manipulation.
Here’s the first notice:
This article has been retracted by the publisher. The same data were reused to represent different experimental conditions. Specifically, lanes 2–4 and 6–8 of the actin immunoblot in Fig. 3A were duplicated. Additionally, the nuclear P-STAT1 immunoblot from Fig. 3A was reused as P-STAT1 in Fig. 3B.
“Osteopontin and protein kinase C regulate PDLIM2 activation and STAT1 ubiquitination in LPS-treated murine macrophages” was published in 2010, and has accumulated eight citations, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. Some of the images in the paper have been discussed on PubPeer.
This article has been retracted by the publisher. The same data were reused to represent different experimental conditions. Specifically, in Fig. 1, lane 3 was reused in lane 11, and lanes 9 and 10 were reused in 17 and 18. Additionally, lane 3 from Fig. 1 was reused in lane 2 from Fig. 3. Finally, lanes 2–4 from Fig. 1 were flipped horizontally and reused in lanes 5–7 from the left panel of Fig. 4.
The 2002 paper has been cited 16 times; it has also been discussed on PubPeer.
This article has been retracted by the publisher. Fig. 2, B and C, and Fig. 4B were inappropriately manipulated.
The 2008 paper has been cited 15 times; here’s its PubPeer entry.
Kuo — who was at Duke at the time the research was conducted — has two previous retractions; one, retracted in 2014, included Guo as first author. The journal said it was retracting the paper because one of the images contained a black box; Kuo later told us the black box was the result of a glitch in the software used to prepare the manuscript, not intentional manipulation.
Kaoru Sakabe, data integrity manager for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, this month offered some helpful advice to authors who want to avoid image problems (unrelated to the aforementioned retractions). As she writes in a Perspectives article:
I’ve heard a lot of different excuses from authors I’ve investigated for violations, such as erasing blemishes and bands, reusing data from different publications and cutting and pasting bands to create data that never existed. These excuses run the gamut from somewhat credible to incredible — although I haven’t yet heard that someone’s dog ate it…in brief, you should manipulate your image as little as possible when preparing the figures for publication. Your final image should be a true representation of the film or image when you captured the original.
We contacted Sakabe, who told us the timing of her article and Kuo’s retractions was purely coincidental:
The Due Diligence column is a series that was in development for several months before the first article was published and will continue for a while. It is part of our larger program to educate the community to avoid these issues.
She explained why the retractions say they were prompted by the publisher:
Retractions are initiated by the publisher and approved by the ASBMB Publications Committee when authors do not agree to withdraw their papers.
We contacted Guo. When we emailed Kuo, we received an automatic reply saying he was away with limited email access.
Update 1/26/17 11:23 a.m. eastern: We’ve heard from Kuo, who told us:
Our research group is disappointed in the JBC retractions. We have gone to extreme measures to address the JBC queries. However, our experience has been extremely frustrating.
1. JBC lacks an SOP for addressing these issues. If they do have one, they will not share it. There is no ombudsman. The existing methodology is extremely opaque and inconsistent with current industry standards as set forth by COPE and recent publications in Cell Press and Plant Physiology. Overall, their approach borders on absurd in a fashion reminiscent of Kafka’s novel, The Trial.
2. At the time of submission of these papers, JBC did not have data retention or image presentation guidelines. Current guidelines were established after 2010. The intervening time period for the 3 papers exceeds the standards for the time, which we argue is the NIH standard. Selective retrospective application of current JBC image standards to our papers while ignoring the same data presentation technique in multiple papers from the same volume is irrational. (And we submitted the references of these JBC papers.) Asking the lab to address queries re: similar appearing bands in DNA loading wells when the corresponding data sections are different is equally bizarre.
3. The JBC decision to ignore the exculpatory conclusion of the official Duke institutional review indicating no research misconduct and no misrepresentation of the scientific record, corroborating evidence from contemporaneous experimental replicates, published independent confirmation of our findings by other labs, and confirmatory results from our recent experiments performed using the original samples is equally mystifying.
4. Of even greater concern was the superficial and often flawed analysis of the images in the publications and additional submitted data. For example, in one instance where it is claimed that same data were used to represent different conditions, a simple perusal of the figure legends shows that the conditions were the SAME. When we pointed this out, it was ignored.
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