Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Another retraction for student who confessed to cooking data

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A journal has retracted another paper by a graduate student formerly based at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, after she spontaneously confessed to fabricating data.

As we reported in April 2016, principal investigator Florence Marlow alerted the institution’s Office of Research Integrity and two journals about Meredyth Forbes’s admission, prompting an investigation into the extent of the data manipulation.

Three papers were affected: In January 2016, Development flagged one paper with an expression of concern, alerting readers to the potential issues with the data while the authors and Research Integrity Office investigated the scope of the problem. In April 2016, another paper was retracted by Cell Reports; the third, also published in Development, received a correction.

Last month, the authors and Development decided to retract the paper that had been flagged with an EOC (which appears on page 2 here). 

According to Katherine Brown, executive editor of Development, the journal and authors decided to retract the paper after researchers spent about a year trying to replicate the results in the questionable figures:

Since becoming aware of the problems with this paper, Florence Marlow and her colleagues have been working hard to try and understand the degree to which the results and conclusions were compromised by the image manipulations. Having published the Expression of Concern, we wanted to give the authors the opportunity to try and replicate the experiments before taking final action. Unfortunately, this took longer than anticipated, though Dr. Marlow and I have been in close contact throughout the process. Once it became clear that not all the results could be replicated, all the authors and the journal agreed that the only option was to retract the paper – as we have now done.

Brown added:

I understand that Dr. Marlow is still working on this project and hopes to be able to publish those data that can be fully replicated, but we are not in a position to comment further on this.

Marlow told us:

I am sincerely grateful to all involved in working to resolve this matter as well as those who provided valuable and much appreciated support, including past and present members of my research group, my collaborators and colleagues, the journal editors, the administration of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and members of the scientific community.

As we reported last year, Forbes left Einstein after spontaneously confessing to fabricating some data while reviewing her dissertation with her mentor. She subsequently agreed to refrain from seeking government funding for three years.

Here’s the retraction notice for “The polarity factor Bucky ball associates with the centrosome and promotes microtubule rearrangements to establish the oocyte axis in zebrafish,” published in Development in December 2015:

The corresponding author of this article contacted the journal shortly after the authors’ accepted version of the manuscript was posted online, regarding potential issues with a number of the figures in this paper. Specifically, the first author (M.M.F.) admitted to manipulating some of the data shown in Figs 5, 7, 8 and 9. The existence of potential issues with data in the paper was noted in an Expression of Concern published by the journal; this Retraction updates and replaces that Expression of Concern. The original article and Expression of Concern are available in the supplementary information to this Retraction notice.

The corresponding author and her colleagues have been engaged in efforts to repeat all experiments in the paper, and have been unable to fully replicate the results shown in the above-referenced figures. Specifically, there are some quantitative inconsistencies between the original and replicate data in Figs 5 and 7. For the experiments in Figs 8 and 9, efforts to detect EB3 signals on fixed samples were unsuccessful; we are therefore unable to have confidence in the data in those figures. We are therefore retracting this paper, with the agreement of all authors and the editors of the journal. Those parts of the study that have been fully validated through the replication efforts of the authors will hopefully be submitted for publication in due course.

The authors sincerely regret any confusion that the publication of these data may have caused to the scientific community.

Update 4/14/17 9:35 a.m. eastern: We’ve just discovered another correction issued in December by Molecular Reproduction & Development, which cites problems with a figure. On this paper, Forbes is a middle author, and Marlow is last author:

In the original published version of this paper, one of the corresponding mutant examples shown in Figure 5E for Caspase 3 was inadvertently duplicated and the proper panel was omitted. We regret this error, and have replaced the duplicated panel with the appropriate Caspase 3 panel. This error does not affect any conclusions from our study, and we apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Although the images in panel 3B’ and 7C” are not the same, similarities between these examples prompted us to include a more distinct image to provide a broader representation of the mutant phenotype.

Zebrafish vasa is required for germ-cell differentiation and maintenance” has been cited 13 times since it was published in 2014.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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