A professor specializing in the health of children and pregnant women has left her post at the University of Glasgow, and issued three retractions in recent months.
All three notices — issued by PLOS ONE — mention an investigation at the university, which found signs of data manipulation and falsification. Fiona Lyall, the last author on all three papers, is also the only author in common to all three papers; she did not respond to the journal’s inquiries.
According to the University of Glasgow, the affiliation listed for Lyall, she is no longer based at the university. When we asked about the circumstances of her departure, the spokesperson told us the university has a “commitment to confidentiality,” but noted:
If you’ve been pausing at some detailed PLOS ONE notices lately — such as one issued last month for a cancer paper that lists 21 shortcomings — you’re not alone.
According to a spokesperson for the publisher, the journal has been progressively pushing towards more transparency in its notices — in part, because it was getting too many calls from our reporters, asking about details that weren’t in the notice but that were “easily answerable.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a journal become more transparent following these kinds of questions — the Journal of Biological Chemistry, for instance, has become much more informative in its retraction notice, following criticism for its previous opacity.
Both the spokesperson and editor Joerg Heber, who took the role in November 2016, were quick to clarify that the increase in detail of notices is not only due to our queries — instead, it’s meant to benefit the entire scientific community. According to the spokesperson:
But the study, especially its methodology, met with immediate criticism in the article’s comment section. PLOS ONEnoted in March 2016 that the authors had contacted the journal regarding an error in some of the exposure levels reported in the study, which journal staff were “looking into.” In December 2016, the journal told the authors it was going to retract the paper. Now, more than one year later, it finally has.
PLOS ONE has retracted two 2014 papers from a group of researchers, after an institutional investigation confirmed image duplication. Although the authors initially asked to correct the figures in the two papers, they ultimately agreed with the decision to retract.
Mrinal K. Maiti—an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur and corresponding author on the two now-retracted PLOS ONE papers—also corrected a 2016 paper published in PLOS ONE over figure-related errors. Maiti is the only author in common to all papers.
Carlo Croce, a cancer researcher who has faced numerous research misconduct allegations, recently accused a former lab member of misconduct. Although an institutional probe did not support that allegation, Croce’s efforts have led to a retraction.
In November 2015, Croce and another cancer researcher at Ohio State University (OSU), Ramiro Garzon, contacted PLOS ONE, alleging that the paper’s corresponding author, Stefan Costinean, published data without their knowledge or permission and without “accurately acknowledging their contributions to the research.” Although the PLOS ONE paper mentioned Croce’s and Garzon’s contributions in the acknowledgements section, the two were not included as co-authors. We have obtained a copy of the report describing OSU’s preliminary probe; it did not find evidence of misconduct, but recommended the paper be retracted for using data without permission. Although Costinean disagreed, the journal has since retracted the paper.
When Retraction Watch began in 2010, our co-founders Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus quickly realized they couldn’t keep up with the hundreds of retractions that appeared each year. And the problem has only gotten worse — although we’ve added staff, the number of retractions issued each year has increased dramatically. According to our growing database, just shy of 1,000 retractions were issued last year (and that doesn’t include expressions of concern and errata). So to get new notices in front of readers more quickly, we’ve started a new feature called “Caught our Notice,” where we highlight a recent notice that stood out from the others. If you have any information about what happened, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On June 19, 2017,the U.S. Office of Research Integrity published its first misconduct finding of the year. The ORI reported that Brandi M. Baughman — a former research training awardee at the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS) — had “falsified and/or fabricated data” in 11 figures in a 2016 paper published in PLOS ONE.
This is the first finding of misconduct issued this year by the ORI.
According to the finding, published in the Federal Register, Brandi M. Baughman — formerly at the National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences (NIEHS) — tweaked data and text in a PLOS ONE paper about screening for compounds that inhibit an enzyme known as inositol phosphate kinase. According to the notice, however, some of those experiments didn’t proceed as described:
After its investigation, Pfizer asked journals to retract five papers co-authored by Min-Jean Yin. Last week, PLOS ONE retracted the final two remaining papers. Both notices cite image duplications; Yin contacted the journal about one paper, but did not comment on the other retraction.
Here’s the notice for “miR-221 Promotes Tumorigenesis in Human Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells:”
Sure, everyone knows it’s not a good idea to falsify data. But what about somewhat lesser offenses that also undermine the reproducibility of your findings, such as only publishing studies that “work,” and reporting an unexpected finding as something you had predicted from the beginning? In 2012, a survey of more than 2,000 psychologists based in the U.S. found that most admitted to adopting at least one “questionable research practice.” But would psychologists in other countries say the same? (Answer: Yes.) A group of researchers led by Franca Agnoli at the University of Padova posed this question to 277 Italian psychologists; their results appear in PLOS ONE.
Retraction Watch: Why is it important to compare how many researchers engage in questionable practices in different countries?