Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘nature retractions’ Category

Structural biology corrections highlight best of the scientific process

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Nature_latest-coverIf you need evidence of the value of transparency in science, check out a pair of recent corrections in the structural biology literature.

This past August, researchers led by Qiu-Xing Jiang at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center corrected their study, first published in February 2014 in eLife, of prion-like protein aggregates called MAVS filaments, to which they had ascribed the incorrect “helical symmetry.” In March, Richard Blumberg of Harvard Medical School, and colleagues corrected their 2014 Nature study of a protein complex called CEACAM1/TIM-3, whose structure they had attempted to solve using x-ray crystallography.

In both cases, external researchers were able to download and reanalyze the authors’ own data from public data repositories, making it quickly apparent what had gone wrong and how it needed to be fixed — highlighting the very best of a scientific process that is supposed to be self-correcting and collaborative. Read the rest of this entry »

Nature fixes highly cited paper suggesting food additives hurt the gut

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Nature_latest coverA 2015 study about dietary emulsifiers has been corrected by Nature after another researcher pointed out a few ambiguities.

When it first appeared, the study — which showed emulsifiers cause inflammation in the guts of mice — received a fair amount of media attention, including from Nature’s own news department. But since publication, a researcher noted some imprecision around the ages of mice used in the sample, affecting the paper’s calculations of weight gain over time. Andrew Gewirtz, co-author of the study from Georgia State University, told us the change did not affect the conclusions of the paper.

Here’s the corrigendum for “Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome”: Read the rest of this entry »

How much does a retracted result pollute the field?

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Research Integrity and Peer Review

When a paper is retracted, how many other papers in the same field — which either cite the finding or cite other papers that do — are affected?

That’s the question examined by a study published in BioMed Central’s new journal, Research Integrity and Peer Review. Using the case of a paper retracted from Nature in 2014, the authors found that subsequent research that cites the retracted paper often repeats the problematic finding, thereby spreading it throughout the field. However, papers that indirectly cited the retracted result — by citing the papers that cited the Nature paper, but not the Nature paper itself — typically don’t repeat the retracted result, which limits its spread.

Here’s how the authors describe their findings in the paper: Read the rest of this entry »

Physicists retract Nature paper on Earth’s core after findings aren’t reproducible

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cover_naturePhysicists have retracted a highly cited paper from Nature on the behavior of electrons at the center of the Earth after other researchers could not reproduce their findings.

The 2015 paper earned coverage in Science News and Live Science, where co-author Ronald Cohen explained:

There was a big problem in how you generate a magnetic field, and now, because of our results, that problem has basically gone away.

Here are more details about what the original paper claimed, courtesy of a press release from The Carnegie Institution for Science, where co-authors Peng Zhang and Cohen work: Read the rest of this entry »

High-profile critic slams Nature letters about dinosaur growth following corrections

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cover_nature (1)Authors of a pair of letters in Nature that concluded dinosaurs reached their full size surprisingly quickly are standing by their conclusions, despite challenges from a high-profile critic.

In the letters, researchers led by first author Gregory M. Erickson, a paleobiologist at The Florida State University, concluded that massive dinos grew fast — for example, a 5.5 ton T-Rex could reach skeletal maturity in just two decades. However, when Nathan Myhrvold tried to reanalyze the data, he couldn’t replicate the results. The authors have issued corrections to address the small mistakes unearthed by Myhrvold’s analysis, but argue he couldn’t replicate their results because they hadn’t fully explained their methodology.

After Myhrvold attempted to replicate the findings of maximum size and growth rate for several papers, he found issues in many, including the two Nature letters, according to a press release on Myhrvold’s website: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shannon Palus

March 1st, 2016 at 9:30 am

STAP stem cell researcher Obokata loses another paper

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Nature protocols

The first author of two high-profile Nature retractions about a technique to easily create stem cells has lost another paper in Nature Protocols.

Haruko Obokata, once “a lab director’s dream,” according to The New Yorker, also had her PhD revoked from Waseda University last fall.

After learning of concerns that two figures are “very similar” and “some of the error bars look unevenly positioned,” the rest of the authors were unable to locate the raw data, according to the note. The journal could not reach Obokata for comment before publishing the retraction.

Reproducible subcutaneous transplantation of cell sheets into recipient mice” has been cited 21 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. It was published in June 2011, soon after Obokata earned her PhD. 

Here’s the note:

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Nature retracts paper six years after it was flagged for fraud

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cover_natureNature retracted a paper on protein structures today, six years after an investigation at the University of Alabama identified several structures that were “more likely than not falsified and/or fabricated” by one of the authors.

The paper came under scrutiny soon after it was published in 2006. A letter published in Nature that same year pointed out “physically implausible features in the structures it described.” That triggered the investigation at the University of Alabama, the result of which was published in 2009, identifying “nine publications related to the same protein structures that should be retracted from various scientific journals.” Everything was pinned on last author H.M. Krishna Murthy, who the investigation determined was “solely responsible for the fraudulent data.”

A 2009 Nature news article on the investigation declared that the “fraud is the largest ever in protein crystallography.”

We’re not sure what took Nature so long to retract the letter, titled “The structure of complement C3b provides insights into complement activation and regulation.” Here’s the note, which explains that not all the authors agreed to the retraction:

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University revokes PhD of first author on retracted STAP stem cell papers

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800px-Waseda_University_Logo.svgWaseda University has revoked the doctorate degree of the first author on the now-retracted Nature papers about a technique to create stem cells.

The technique — which claimed to provide a new way to nudge young cells from mice into pluripotency — was initially described in two 2014 Nature papers, both first-authored by Haruko Obokata. However, the papers were soon mired in controversy, corrected, then retracted later that year due to “several critical errors,” some of which were categorized by a RIKEN investigation as misconduct.

Shortly after Nature retracted the two papers, Waseda revoked Obokata’s doctorate degree — on a probationary basis, according to the university: Read the rest of this entry »

Authors retract highly cited Nature quantum dot letter after discovering error

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Authors have retracted a highly cited Nature letter that purported to discover a much sought-after, stable light source from quantum dots, after they realized the light was actually coming from another source: the glass the dots were affixed to.

When the paper “Non-blinking semiconductor nanocrystals” was published in 2009, it received some media coverage, such as in Chemistry WorldThat’s partly because very small sources of “non-blinking” light could have wide-ranging, big-picture applications, author Todd Krauss, a physical chemist at the University of Rochester, told us:

Off the top of my head, a quantum computer. Quantum cryptography is another one. People want a stable light source that obeys quantum physics, instead of classic physics.

The retraction note, published Wednesday, explains how the researchers found out the effect was coming from the glass, not quantum dots:

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Nature: No plans to change wording of STAP retractions

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cover_nature (2)Despite acknowledging in its own pages that two recent high-profile retraction notices turned out to not tell the whole story, Nature will not be updating the original retraction notices, the journal tells us.

We checked in with Nature after it published two Brief Communications Arising regarding two high-profile retractions of papers describing a new method of reprogramming cells to a pluripotent state. (This method is also known as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.)

We were particularly intrigued by the journal’s plans for the retractions, published in 2014, when an editorial in the September 23 issue about the new BCAs (here and here) suggested the wording of the notices might be problematic: Read the rest of this entry »