Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

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Retraction no. 8 (and a 1/2) hits former Duke researcher Erin Potts-Kant

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American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular PhysiologyAnother retraction and a correction that retracts two figures — ie, a partial retraction — have been posted for Duke University lung researchers, Erin Potts-Kant and Michael Foster.

These latest notices move the count up to 8.5 retractions for Potts-Kant and 7.5 for Foster (counting the partial retraction as 1/2), along with the correction for both. In both cases and in a familiar note from previous retractions, authors found “potential discrepancies” between two sets of data (partial retraction) and study figures that weren’t “reliable” (retraction).

The retraction comes after the authors discovered problems with three of the study figures. In the corrected paper, the authors were able to validate some of their findings after repeating the experiments, but retracted two of the study figures that they were “unable to verify.”

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Duke admits faked data “potentially affected” grant applications

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Duke University

A former researcher at Duke University has admitted to faking data that allegedly were used to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants.

Duke has also admitted that it knew Erin Potts-Kant, a pulmonary scientist, faked data, but it’s unclear whether that was discovered prior to using those data to apply for grants, as a lawsuit alleges.

The admissions come from court documents submitted by Potts-Kant, her supervisor — former Duke researcher William Michael Foster — and Duke itself, responding to allegations in a whistleblower suit that says they defrauded the government.

Regular readers may recall that Joseph Thomas, a former colleague of Potts-Kant and Foster, has filed a False Claims Act suit against the three defendants on behalf of the U.S. government. The responses, submitted separately by the three defendants, are the latest development in what could be a landmark case for research misconduct. The lawsuit has survived motions to dismiss and is moving through the discovery process, which is likely to reveal more than the defendants have already said.

The suit claims that Potts-Kant “knew that the reported research results in question were false and/or fabricated, having generated the results herself.” To which she responded (in writing): Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

June 29th, 2017 at 12:00 pm

$200M research misconduct case against Duke moving forward, as judge denies motion to dismiss

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A Federal U.S. court in North Carolina has denied a motion to dismiss a major lawsuit filed against Duke University and two former employees, allowing the case to go forward.

Last year, the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Virginia unsealed a whistleblower lawsuit filed by another former employee at Duke against the university, a biologist and her former supervisor, alleging they included fraudulent data in applications and reports involving more than 60 grants. The total amount: $200 million. If successful, Duke may have to refund three times the amount of allegedly ill-gotten gains, and the whistleblower could himself receive millions.

The researcher, Erin Potts-Kant, her supervisor William Michael Foster, and Duke all filed motions to dismiss; this week, that motion was denied.

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Written by Alison McCook

April 28th, 2017 at 9:35 am

Former Duke researcher at center of lawsuit lodges 16th retraction

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ajrcmb-2016-55-issue-5-coverTwo former researchers at Duke University at the center of a lawsuit by a whistleblower to recoup millions in federal funding have lost yet another paper.

This is hardly the first retraction for Erin Potts-Kant, who used to work in the pulmonary lab of now-retired William Michael Foster. Earlier this year, a lawsuit filed by a former colleague of Potts-Kant and Foster was unsealed alleging that the pair — along with the university — included fraudulent data in materials involving more than 60 grants, worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

That is the legal side of their story. The science publishing side is that Potts-Kant and Foster have been steadily adding to their list of retractions — this paper represents her 16th, and his 13th.

Here’s the notice for “Nitric oxide mediates relative airway hyporesponsiveness to lipopolysaccharide in surfactant protein A-deficient mice:” Read the rest of this entry »

Correction cites “unreliable” data in paper by researchers at center of Duke lawsuit

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Journal of Biological ChemistryA researcher charged with embezzlement — and now the subject of a multi-million dollar lawsuit — has earned another correction, again citing “unreliable” data.

But this doesn’t appear to be a run-of-the-mill correction notice.

Firstly, it affects a paper co-authored by Erin Potts-Kant and William Foster, former Duke employees now being sued (along with Duke) for including fraudulent data in $200 million worth of federal grants. Secondly, the notice in the Journal of Biological Chemistry is four paragraphs long, and includes six figures — it would normally be considered a “mega-correction.” But lastly, even though the notice is labeled a “correction,” it’s not immediately apparent which aspects of the paper are being changed.

Here are some excerpts from the newest notice: Read the rest of this entry »

Embezzlement, 15 retractions, and a whistleblower could add up to trouble for Duke

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scienceRetraction Watch readers may recall the case of Erin Potts-Kant, who pled guilty to embezzling funds from a lab, and now has 15 retractions, and Michael Foster, both formerly of Duke. You may also remember that we’ve featured discussions of the False Claims Act, which some attorneys are trying to use to expose wrongdoing — and earn large settlements for whistleblowers in the process.

It turns out those two threads are intertwined, as we learned only last month when a federal court case against Potts-Kant, Foster, and Duke was unsealed last month. (False Claims Act cases are frequently sealed when initially filed, with big penalties for anyone — including the attorneys — who talk about them, which is why we didn’t know of this link before.) In today’s Science, as part of our new partnership, we tell the story in a lot more detail, and describe the potential ramifications for Duke and other universities.

The whistleblower in the Duke case is named Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 1st, 2016 at 2:00 pm

Another paper by Duke pair with 12+ retractions is flagged

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American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care MedicineAnother expression of concern (EOC) has appeared for a pair of lung researchers formerly employed by Duke University.

Co-authors Erin Potts-Kant, a research assistant who left the school and was charged with embezzlement, and Michael Foster, who has retired, share more than a dozen retractions, corrections and EOCs.

Like many of those papers, the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine is being flagged over concerns it is “unreliable.” Here’s more from the EOC:

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Duke researcher adds another retraction in JCI, bringing count to 15

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JCIWe’ve found another retraction for Erin Potts-Kant, a former researcher at Duke, bringing her total to 15.

Yesterday we reported on two new retractions for Potts-Kant in PLoS ONE, which earned her a spot in the top 30 on our leaderboard. As with the others, the latest paper, in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, is marred by “unreliable” data.

Here’s the retraction notice for “In utero supplementation with methyl donors enhances allergic airway disease in mice“:

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Duke pulmonary researcher up to 14 retractions, putting her on our leaderboard

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PLOS OneA pair of Duke researchers who each have more than 10 retractions have earned some more.

Both of the newly retracted papers — originally published in 2012 by PLOS ONE — list Erin Potts-Kant as a co-author; one includes her former supervisor, Michael Foster, as lead author. The pair has since left Duke (Potts-Kant was arrested for using school credit cards to shop at the likes of Target, and Foster retired). The reason provided for these retractions will be familiar to anyone who’s been following their case — there were “concerns about the reliability” of the data.

By our count, Potts-Kant now has 14 retractions, making her one of the few women to hold a position on our leaderboard.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Iron Supplementation Decreases Severity of Allergic Inflammation in Murine Lung,” a paper that lists both Foster and Potts-Kant as authors:

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Five more notices for Duke pulmonary pair brings retraction tally into double digits

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Two retractions and three corrections have appeared for a group of Duke researchers that already have 10+ retractions under their belts.

The reasoning behind them echoes that which we’ve seen before in notices for Michael Foster and Erin Potts-Kant: Following an inquiry from the university, the journals were informed that some of the data or results weren’t reliable, and not all of the experiments could be repeated.

A colleague aware of the case said that researchers are still working to repeat experiments from papers by Potts-Kant and Foster. It is not known how many more papers might be corrected or retracted. Duke University is fully supporting the validation of these experiments, the source told us.

Foster has retired from Duke, a spokesperson for the university confirmed. Read the rest of this entry »