Did a NOAA scientist “retract” an overoptimistic oil spill report?

Photo by Mindful Walker http://www.flickr.com/photos/27530874@N03/ via flickr

Yesterday, on a story about a Congressional hearing on the progress of oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, the Guardian ran the following headline:

BP oil spill: US scientist retracts assurances over success of cleanup

NOAA’s Bill Lehr says three-quarters of the oil that gushed from the Deepwater Horizon rig is still in the Gulf environment while scientists identify 22-mile plume in ocean depths

The story, as do those in the Los Angeles Times, The Hill, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, among others, point out that Lehr’s testimony seemed at odds with the almost celebratory atmosphere surrounding the release of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report two weeks ago, “BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget: What Happened To the Oil?”

The coverage yesterday also noted that other scientists have criticized the report, and that a study in Science this week suggests there’s still an underwater plume of oil in the Gulf.

But did Lehr actually “retract” assurances over the cleanup’s success, or the report itself? Continue reading Did a NOAA scientist “retract” an overoptimistic oil spill report?

American Cancer Society drops ‘Screening is Seeing’ ad campaign

When we started Retraction Watch, Gary Schwitzer suggested that one of us might be a vampire.

Well, Schwitzer, let us say this: You are no Jesus.

However, criticism leveled by Schwitzer at an American Cancer Society (ACS) ad campaign earlier this week has accomplished the Retraction Watch equivalent of turning water into wine. The campaign, he wrote, Continue reading American Cancer Society drops ‘Screening is Seeing’ ad campaign

Shifting gears: Occupational health journal pulls study linking shift work, age and sleep disorders

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.

Ironically, the researchers, led by Philip Tucker, of Swansea University in Wales, U.K., had hoped to demonstrate the toll of shift work that previous studies were unable to show conclusively because of “methodological difficulties”: Continue reading Shifting gears: Occupational health journal pulls study linking shift work, age and sleep disorders

Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard

Marc Hauser, a prominent Harvard psychology researcher and author, will be taking a leave of absence from the university following “a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory” that has led to the retraction of one of his papers, according to The Boston Globe.

The retraction, of a 2002 paper in Cognition, reads, in part: “An internal examination at Harvard University . . . found that the data do not support the reported findings. We therefore are retracting this article,” the Globe reports.  It also includes the sentence “MH accepts responsibility for the error.”

The retraction notice does not yet appear anywhere on the journal’s site, where the PDF version of the study is still available, nor on the Medline abstract. Its circumstances appear to be atypical, according to the Globe: Continue reading Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard

2005 PNAS Arabidopsis cold sensitivity gene paper retracted

There’s a retraction this week from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of a paper that first appeared online on July 1, 2005 (and which is still available, but notes under “this article” that “a retraction has been published”). The paper reports on a study that allegedly found a gene that made Arabidopsis plants — a favorite model of molecular biologists — “extremely sensitive to freezing temperatures, completely unable to acclimate to the cold,” and very sensitive to salt.

In other words, the Arabidopsis version of our relatives in Florida.

From the retraction:
Continue reading 2005 PNAS Arabidopsis cold sensitivity gene paper retracted

Redundancy, redux: Anesthesia journal retracts obesity paper in self-plagiarism case

Sometimes redundancy — the topic of our last post — is a failure of editors to adequately vet a manuscript. Other times, the blame falls more squarely on the authors.

Consider: In the August 2010 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, a highly regarded specialty journal, five researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, led by Andrew Ochroch, made a remarkable confession.

Their article in the May issue of A&A on ventilation of patients recovering from bariatric surgery plagiarized a 2009 paper in a competing publication, Anesthesiology — written by the same group:

We sincerely apologize for the inappropriate and unacceptable intellectual overlap and self-plagiarism of our paper … published in Anesthesiology.

Sincere apologies are better, we suppose, than insincere ones. But, never mind. They go on: Continue reading Redundancy, redux: Anesthesia journal retracts obesity paper in self-plagiarism case

Why write a blog about retractions?

Post by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus

The unfolding drama of Anil Potti — a Duke researcher who posed as a Rhodes Scholar and appears to have invented key statistical analyses in a study of how breast cancer responds to chemotherapy — has sent ripples of angst through the cancer community. Potti’s antics prompted editors of The Lancet Oncology to issue an “expression of concern” — a Britishism that might be better expressed as “Holy Shit!” — about the validity of a 2007 paper in their journal by Potti and others.

Unlike newspapers, which strive for celerity as much as accuracy, science journals have the luxury of time. Thorough vetting, through editorial boards, peer reviewers and other filters, is the coin of the realm.

And yet mistakes happen. Sometimes these slips are merely technical, requiring nothing more than an erratum notice calling attention to a backwards figure or an incorrect address for reprints. Less often but far more important are the times when the blunders require that an entire article be pulled. For a glossary of the spectrum between erratum and retraction — including expression of concern — see this piece, commissioned by one of us, Ivan, while he was at The Scientist.

Retractions are born of many mothers. Fraud is the most titillating reason, and mercifully the most rare, but when it happens the results can be devastating. Consider the case of Scott Reuben, a prodigiously dishonest anesthesiologist whose fabrications led to the retraction of more than a score of papers and deeply rattled an entire medical specialty. (One of us, Adam, broke that story.)

So why write a blog on retractions? Continue reading Why write a blog about retractions?