Sometimes, apparently, a retraction isn’t enough to put research findings to bed forever. Consider this obituary recently posted online at the Journal of Pediatrics, for a method of detecting gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children:
We commonly recognize the contributions of distinguished members of the pediatric community and, with regret, their passing. It is appropriate, therefore, that we acknowledge the timely death of an old friend, the pH probe. Crushed to death under the weight of evidence against it, it was found abandoned in a trash can with a note that read, ‘‘Good riddance to a bad test.’’
To be fair, the pH probe has always been the standard bearer for mediocrity.
Well, it’s happened: The Embargo Watch and Retraction Watch worlds have collided. I had initially figured on two posts here, but it soon became clear that how journals were handling these retractions, using embargoes, was central to both. So this is being cross-posted on both blogs.
Linda Buck, who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has retracted two papers published in 2005 and 2006. Both retractions — one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and one in Science — appear online today.
The papers describe how nerves that carry information about scents connect from the nose to the olfactory bulb, where they are processed. They were published after the 2004 Nobel, which was for discoveries “of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system.”
Harvard Medical School has formed an ad hoc committee to review the retraction, and Buck has asked the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to review two later publications on which Zou was the lead author. “It’s disappointing of course,” says Buck. “The important thing is to correct the literature.”
The PNAS and Science retractions are of those two later publications. The PNAS study was cited 61 times, and the Science study was cited 73 times, according to the Thomson Scientific Web of Knowledge.
Two of Woo’s post-doctoral fellows at Mount Sinai School of Medicine were dismissed for “research misconduct,” said Ian Michaels, a spokesman for the institution. According to Michaels:
When Dr. Savio L C Woo came to suspect that two post-doctoral fellows in his laboratory may have engaged in research misconduct he notified the Mount Sinai Research Integrity Office. Mount Sinai immediately initiated institutional reviews that resulted in both post-doctoral fellows being dismissed for research misconduct. At no time were there allegations that Dr. Woo had engaged in research misconduct. As part of its review, the investigation committee looked into this possibility and confirmed that no research misconduct could be attributed to Dr. Woo, who voluntarily retracted the papers regarding the research in question. Mount Sinai reported the results of its investigations to the appropriate government agencies and continues to cooperate with them as part of its commitment to adhere to the highest standards for research integrity.
We have plenty of other questions for Mount Sinai about the details of the investigation—including when the post-docs were let go, which Michaels declined to answer—and will update when we learn more.
Research from the lab of Savio Woo, a leading U.S. gene therapy scientist, has come into question with the retraction by major journals of at least four of his articles.
The papers, which appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and Human Gene Therapy, involve findings published between 2005 and 2009, address various aspect of gene therapy. Two of the articles boasted of potential breakthroughs, and even a possible cure, for diseases with extremely high rates of mortality.
The study in JNCI, for example, reported the finding of a genetically modified bacterium that showed promise for the treatment of pancreatic cancer, a particularly lethal malignancy, and other tumor types. Another, published in 2005 in PNAS, claimed to have discovered a possible cure for phenylketonuria, or PKU, in mice—a finding that was cited more than 30 times and trumpeted in the media.
In the world of scientific misconduct, it’s often worth keeping track of what happens to scientists whose papers were retracted because of falsified or otherwise fraudulent results.
Take the case of Hung-Shu Chang. Last week, the the federal Office of Research Integrity announced that it had closed its investigation into the scientist’s misdeeds. Chang was a visiting postdoctoral researcher from Taiwan who in 2005 had come to the renowned Skinner Laboratory at Washington State University to study the effects of endocrine disruptors — a class of compounds that includes BPA and which have been shown to disrupt the action of hormones — on sex cells.
Chang was accused of falsifying data in a 2006 paper in Endocrinology — later retracted — reporting the damaging effects of vinclozolin, a fungicide used to protect vineyards, on the genetic integrity of sperm cells.
Aging & Mental Health “welcomes original contributions” to fill its pages.
Or not so original. Last November, the journal published a study by two California researchers which looked at the possible effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on physical well-being in older women – and found no evidence of such a link.
Blaming “data coding errors,” the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health has pulled an article linking shift work, age and sleeping problems.
The study was published four months ago, but managed in its brief lifespan to garner significant attention in the mainstream media and the blogosphere, although it has not been cited by any other papers. It comes alongside growing interest in the potential lnks between shift work and various health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome and breast cancer. Denmark even awards damages to shift workers who have developed the latter.