Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘best of retractions’ Category

Should papers be retracted if one of the authors is a total asshole?

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no cursing

Image via Chris James.

When science writer Vito Tartamella noticed a physics paper co-authored by Stronzo Bestiale (which means “total asshole” in Italian) he did what anyone who’s written a book on surnames would do: He looked it up in the phonebook.

What he found was a lot more complicated than a funny name.

It turns out Stronzo Bestiale doesn’t exist.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Cat Ferguson

October 9th, 2014 at 11:00 am

Enthusiastic retraction and retracted correction mark loss of researcher’s fourth and fifth papers

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IJMPBHere’s a physics retraction whose use of an exclamation point — the only one we’ve ever seen in a retraction notice! — makes the editors’ exasperation palpable.

It’s also the the fourth retraction for R. K. Singhal, of the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, India. Behold the notice for “Magnetic behavior of functionally modified spinel Ni0.4Ca0.6Fe2O4 nanoferrite,” in the International Journal of Modern Physics B: Read the rest of this entry »

The case of the three retracted Penises

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Marc Abrahams, of Improbable Research and the Ig Nobels, found something remarkable earlier this evening, as he is wont to do:

von-boningThat’s right, a paper written by two Penises and a von Boning. But much to Abrahams’ chagrin, he notes: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 17th, 2013 at 10:05 pm

Why I retracted my Nature paper: A guest post from David Vaux about correcting the scientific record

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Last month, Ivan met David Vaux at the 3rd World Conference on Research Integrity in Montreal. David mentioned a retraction he published in Nature, and we thought it would be a great guest post on what it’s like to retract one of your own papers in an attempt to clean up the literature.


David Vaux

In September 1995 Nature asked me to review a manuscript by Bellgrau and co-workers, which subsequently appeared. I was very excited by this paper, as it showed that expression of CD95L on Sertoli cells in allogeneic mismatched testes tissue transplanted under the kidney capsule was able to induce apoptosis of invading cytotoxic T cells, thereby preventing rejection. As I wrote in a News and Views piece, the implications of these findings were enormous – grafts engineered to express CD95L would be able to prevent rejection without generalized immunosuppression.

In fact, I was so taken by these findings that we started generation of transgenic mice that expressed CD95L on their islet beta cells to see if it would allow islet cell grafts to avoid rejection and provide a cure for diabetes in mismatched recipients.

Little did we know that instead of providing an answer to transplant rejection, these experiments would teach us a great deal about editorial practices and the difficulty of correcting errors once they appear in the literature. Read the rest of this entry »

So what should happen to scientific papers that are proven wrong?

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There’s been a lively discussion at Jeff Perkel’s guest post from this morning, “Should Linus Pauling’s erroneous 1953 model of DNA be retracted?” Most of our commenters say “no.” Some of those “nos” are quite emphatic, suggesting that Retraction Watch should brush up on epistemology, or that this was a silly question to begin with.

We appreciate all the feedback, of course, and thought this would be a good opportunity to expand the answers a bit from “yes” and “no” — which a few commenters have begun doing. So we’re posting this poll about what should happen to papers such as Pauling’s that are proven to be wrong, knowing that they continue to be cited as if they had no significant flaws. (Pauling’s, as Perkel pointed out, was actually wrong about at least one thing even when it was published, but leave that aside for these purposes.) Vote here: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

June 27th, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Should Linus Pauling’s erroneous 1953 model of DNA be retracted?

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Linus Pauling, via Wikimedia

We love history at Retraction Watch, but with few exceptions, such as covering what seems to have been the first-ever English language retraction in 1756, the daily march of retractions doesn’t leave us much time to take steps back. So we’re very glad to be able to present a guest post by our friend Jeff Perkel about a classic paper that scientists have known to be wrong for most of its nearly 60-year-life — and yet remains in the literature.

The date is December 31, 1952. Linus Pauling, the CalTech wunder-chemist who had recently solved the secondary structure of proteins by describing the alpha-helix and the beta-sheet, has just submitted a “Proposed Structure for the Nucleic Acids” to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The PNAS description appears in February 1953 and runs for 14 pages, with seven figures and two tables (compare that with Watson and Crick’s one-pager two months later in Nature).

Pauling also submitted a short note to Nature to alert that journal’s readers to the basics of the PNAS paper. The Nature note appeared in the journal’s February 21 issue: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

June 27th, 2012 at 9:30 am

The first-ever English language retraction (1756)?

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Benjamin Wilson self-portrait, via Wikimedia

We tend to focus on new retractions here at Retraction Watch, and find it difficult enough to even keep up with the hundreds per year. But sometimes it’s illuminating to take a dip into history, so when Richard van Noorden alerted us to what may be the earliest-ever English language retraction, we thought we’d take a look.

The notice appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society on June 24, 1756. It reads: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

February 27th, 2012 at 9:30 am

Happy anniversary, Retraction Watch: What we’ve learned, and what’s in store for year two

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Adam and Ivan at Retraction Watch HQ, aka NYC's Market Diner

Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the launch of Retraction Watch. We’d like to thank our readers, tipsters, and fans for your support and feedback — and our helpful critics who have spurred us to do better.

Over the past 12 months we’ve written more than 250 posts about retractions ranging from the extraordinary — think Joachim Boldt and his 90-odd withdrawals, and the Byzantine case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus — to the trivial (much of the plagiarism, for instance); the laudable (a swift one in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, to pick one) to the ludicrous (the reason for that retraction is “none of your damn business,” one editor told us).

We haven’t done a careful count — more on more rigorous indexing later — but those posts cover something like 200 retractions, given that there are more than 120 between just Boldt, Bulfone-Paus, and Naoki Mori. That is unusually high activity for a 12-month period; the annual average for the previous 10 years was about 80. (Let us be the first to point out that any correlation between our founding and that high number does not imply causation.)

We made a rather presumptuous promise when we started this project. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

August 3rd, 2011 at 9:30 am

Update on a Best Of retraction: Elsevier edits notice suggesting renaming Israel “historical Palestine” was political

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About two months ago, we posted an item on a curious retraction as the first installment in our Best of Retractions series. In the notice of the retraction in Agricultural Water Management, the editor wrote:

Reason: During the second revision of the manuscript, the authors modified Figure 1 (changing the label from “Israel” to  “Historical Palestine”), apparently with the goal of inserting a political statement into a scientific journal article. The authors did not inform the editors or the publisher of this change in their manuscript. As such, the authors have not lived up to the standards of trust and integrity that form the foundation of the peer-review process. The Editors-in-Chief take a very strong view on this matter and, hence, the retraction of the article from publication in Agricultural Water Management.

As Pieter van der Zaag, one of the paper’s authors informed us over the weekend in a comment on that post, however, the phrase “apparently with the goal of inserting a political statement into a scientific journal article” has now been removed from the notice. We asked van der Zaag, of the UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education, for some more information. Here are his comments: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

November 29th, 2010 at 9:30 am

Best of Retractions Part III: Whatever can go wrong …

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Paging Dr. Murphy.

In July, the editors of Cancer Biology & Therapy published a retraction remarkable for its scope. Apparently, nearly everything dishonest authors can do to doctor a manuscript, these authors did.

The paper, “Overexpression of transketolase protein TKTL1 is associated with occurrence and progression in nasopharyngeal carcinoma,” initially appeared on the journal’s website in January 2008. It came out in print three months later, in the April issue, and has been cited 8 times since, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The authors were Song Zhang, Jian Xin Yue,  Ju Hong Yang, Peng Cheng Cai and Wei Jia Kong, of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Hubei, China. It will be quite clear why we listed all those authors in a moment. Read the rest of this entry »