Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“The paper is extremely flawed:” Journal retracts article linked to vaccines

with 9 comments

A journal has retracted a 2016 paper after receiving criticism from outside researchers who raised concerns about its methodology and data.

The paper shares multiple authors with another paper that linked the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) to behavioral problems in mice. Last year, a journal removed the study; later that year, the authors published a revised version in another journal. The latest retracted paper focuses on the antibodies present in a form of lupus.

Yehuda Shoenfeld at Tel-Aviv University in Israel, the corresponding author on both this latest retraction and the HPV vaccine paper, recently edited a textbook that explored how vaccines can induce autoimmunity in some people.  He told us the 2016 lupus paper does have a link to vaccines [his emphasis]:

Indeed it is [very] strange;  after one year of being in the journal and after extensive peer reviews of the paper suddenly we received a letter from the editors that SOMEBODY criticized the paper extensively??, it looks very strange and unprecedented. yet indeed at this time we have used this paper in Court for vaccine compensation to show that autoantibodies penetrate cells. Is it coincidental ????????

Here’s the retraction notice, published by Rheumatology:

The above article from Rheumatology ‘Anti-ribosomal-phosphoprotein autoantibodies penetrate to neuronal cells via neuronal growth associated protein, affecting neuronal cells in vitro’ by Shaye Kivity, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Maria-Teresa Arango, Dolores J. Cahill, Sara Louise O’Kane, Margalit Zusev, Inna Slutsky, Michal Harel-Meir, Joab Chapman, Torsten Matthias and Miri Blank, published online on 06 May 2016 by Oxford University Press, has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editor, Dr Jacob M. van Laar, The British Society for Rheumatology and Oxford University Press. The retraction has been agreed due to the discovery of significant errors relating to methods and presentation of results.

Anti-ribosomal-phosphoprotein autoantibodies penetrate to neuronal cells via neuronal growth associated protein, affecting neuronal cells in vitro” has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We contacted the journal to learn more about the “significant errors,” but haven’t yet heard back. In the meantime we may have some clues from David Hawkes at Victorian Cytology Service in Australia, who co-authored a lengthy critique of the paper and submitted it to the journal. Hawkes told us:

The problem with the information about the methods in the paper by Kivity and colleagues is that there is not enough information for these experiments to be reproduced. Also the data shifted around giving contradictory results when both the original paper and the supplement were considered…The issue is that the paper is extremely flawed and it is difficult to understand how this got through a peer review process.

So he and a co-author contacted the journal:

Yes I brought this to the attention of the journal. They also sent me through the authors response to my comments. I then responded with a Letter to the Editor which lead to the paper being retracted (and also as a result my paper wasn’t seen fit for publication as the original manuscript was being withdrawn). I was informed that the evidence I submitted to the journal played a role in the retraction of the paper.

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  • Ander Elessedil August 15, 2017 at 3:27 pm

    The first link (2016 paper) leads to a paper of three portoguese authors.
    I think it is wrong.

    • Alison McCook August 15, 2017 at 3:47 pm

      Fixed, thanks!

  • John H Noble Jr August 15, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    It seems this could be resolved one way or the other by clarification what needs to be known in order to replicate the original study and its putative findings. The implications one way or another are important, so one hopes that interested parties will do what is necessary to replicate the original study.

  • herr doktor bimler August 15, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    yet indeed at this time we have used this paper in Court for vaccine compensation to show that autoantibodies penetrate cells.

    “Having published a flawed paper with contradictory and questionable data, we relied on it in our expert testimony in a compensation-related court case.” Dr Shoenfeld is not doing himself any favours.

    • herr doktor bimler August 16, 2017 at 6:53 am

      Does anyone have a link to the paper? I am curious as to how the authors handled the potential COI.

      • Narad August 16, 2017 at 11:03 am

        The DOI resolves; paper’s sitting right there.

        “D.J.C. is a co-founder and shareholder of Protagen AG, Germany. All other authors have declared no conflicts of interest.”

  • rfg August 16, 2017 at 10:31 am

    I can’t seem to link to the paper either. Perhaps, it been removed completely. I would prefer to see retracted articles remain part of the literature with clear marking that the article has been retracted. I could be wrong but I believe that that is COPE’s recommendation as well.

    Also the retraction notice does not provide adequate detail as to why the paper was retracted. “Significant errors relating to methods and presentation of results” doesn’t say much. Couldn’t we at least be told which figures/tables had significant errors. It would be good to have a look, but impossible if the paper has truly been disappeared without a trace.

  • herr doktor bimler August 16, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Ah, thx Narad; I finally saw the link labelled “PDF”.

    • rfg August 17, 2017 at 3:57 am

      Me too.

      It’s funny – on my Chrome browser [at least] the pdf link is covered up by the phrase “This article has been withdrawn, please see retraction notice kex259 for further details.”

      Glad to see the article remains visable – still would have hoped for more transparency in the retraction notice.

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