Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Former MD Anderson researcher objects to retraction of his paper

with 7 comments

A cell biology journal has retracted a 2016 paper after an investigation revealed that the corresponding author failed to include two co-authors and acknowledge the funding source.

According to the retraction notice, the Journal of Cellular Physiology retracted the paper after the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center found that last author Jin Wang had omitted two researchers from the list of authors, and had also failed to acknowledge funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But Wang tells a different story.

Wang, who worked at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston until 2015 but now runs his own lab at Fudan University in Shanghai, told us that he wrote the paper by himself and only asked his former mentor at MD Anderson, Subrata Sen, for English language edits. Wang also said that the research was not funded by the NIH and that one researcher mentioned in the notice, Ann Killary, played no role in the work and thus should not have been an author.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Identification of Novel Biomarkers for Pancreatic Cancer Using Integrated Transcriptomics With Functional Pathways Analysis:”

The above article from the Journal of Cellular Physiology, published online on 10 March 2016 in Wiley Online Library as Early View (, has been retracted by agreement between Gary Stein, the journal’s Editor-in-Chief, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The retraction has been agreed following an investigation at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, which confirmed that the article was submitted and approved for publication by Dr. Jin Wang without acknowledgement of NIH funding received or the consent and authorship of Dr. Ann Killary and Dr. Subrata Sen, with whom the manuscript was originally drafted.

The paper has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Wang explained that he worked as a postdoc in Sen’s lab at MD Anderson for almost seven years, and left the lab around May 2015. Before leaving, Wang said he sent Sen a draft of the paper to edit for language, not content. Wang said he also sent the paper to others for English editing and does not think Sen’s corrections warranted authorship. The paper was received by the journal in February 2016 and published online the following month.

Wang added:

By the way, Dr. Killary had never read this manuscript. We do not understand why and who said she had drafted this manuscript.

The paper’s acknowledgement section does not acknowledge Sen or Killary. It only calls out grant support received from the Shanghai Science and Technology Commission.

We reached out to both Sen and Killary for a response to Wang’s remarks. We also contacted the institution’s provost and compliance officer to ask for a copy of the investigation report. A spokesperson from MD Anderson Cancer Center got back to us with a statement:

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity and supports the Journal of Cellular Physiology for retracting the article, “Identification of Novel Biomarkers for Pancreatic Cancer Using Integrated Transcriptomics with Functional Pathways Analysis.

Between 2010 and 2015, Killary and Sen received more than $3.2 million in NIH grants to support their research identifying early biomarkers in pancreatic cancer. Although we do not know for sure whether the funding also covered the research in the Journal of Cellular Physiology paper, the projects focus on similar topics.

Sen was also a middle author on a 2004 Journal of Biological Chemistry paper co-authored by Harvard’s Sam Lee, which was retracted in 2015 after an investigation at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute uncovered data manipulation.

Conflicts over authorship have led to many problems in the literature. For instance, we recently explored how the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) authorship guidelines which recommend that any author included on a paper should have made “substantial contributions to the conception or design of the work” — ended a 20-year collaboration.  

Hat tip: Kerry Grens

Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.

Written by Victoria Stern

August 23rd, 2017 at 11:00 am

  • Michael August 23, 2017 at 11:29 am

    Based on the timeline there is no doubt that the work was carried out at MD Anderson, so NIH funds were most likely used, either directly or indirectly. What affiliation did Dr. Wang give in the original paper? If it looked as though this was a project carried out in his own lab at Fudan University, it would count towards his tenure file (unlike a paper done in his postdoc lab).

  • Cancer doc UK August 23, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    “The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is committed to the highest standards of scientific integrity”

    This is good to read.

    I hope they have been busy.

  • rfg August 24, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Where the data was generated and who generated it is or at least should be completely knowable simply by examining the lab notebooks.

    If this was done at Anderson in Sen’s lab under Sen’s funding Sen should definitely be an author.

    It’s probably a good bet that the journal and Anderson accessed this data and made the proper determination.

    Not unusual for a postdoc or other student to think that they alone own the data generated in a mentor’s lab. There’s a lot more behind an experiment than simply operating a pipetter.

    • VT August 24, 2017 at 6:01 pm

      From my understanding, data belong to the institution where research is undertaken. Signing the paycheck for the postdoc doesn’t warrant authorship on work that the PI has next to zero contribution (postdocs may also come with their own funding and ideas).

      But most of the time, it’s just common courtesy to include PI name in the list of authors, or at least ask if the PI wants to be included. In this story Jin Wang is kind of ignorant to not even consider that.

    • Yolanda August 25, 2017 at 11:48 am

      “If this was done at Anderson in Sen’s lab under Sen’s funding Sen should definitely be an author.”

      No, funding is not enough to be author; also, “owning” the data as PI not enough to grant you authorship (I think the data is owned by the institution). If you participate in initiating the study, in defining the study’s aims and hypotheses, and then do nothing until a draft is sent to you, except supervise/manage the lab, you could still be author if the results come out from the analyses you helped formulate. But if you bring in money and a PhD or a postdoc finds incidentally something in the data that has nothing to do with the initial hypotheses or aims, then the PI can be still be invited to participate in writing up the results, but it’s not mandatory.

  • xB August 24, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    @rfg: but simply providing space and money isn’t enough either to give credit as an author, otherwise university deans and presidents would have to be on every paper in their department…

    • Michael August 24, 2017 at 4:23 pm

      Deans and Presidents usually don’t make intellectual contributions to projects, nor do they own the research space (the university or institution does), so there is no need to add them as authors. If the research was carried out with funds that come from grants by the PI, it’s fairly standard practice to give the PI authorship, since there typically is some degree of intellectual input into the final product. Regardless of authorship, the source of funding needs to be listed.

  • Post a comment

    Threaded commenting powered by interconnect/it code.