Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘pnas’ Category

PNAS asks D.C. court to dismiss $10 million defamation lawsuit

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WASHINGTON, DC — Lawyers for the National Academy of Sciences have asked a District of Columbia court to dismiss a $10 million defamation suit brought by a Stanford University professor.

Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford who has published research about the future of renewable energy, alleged he was defamed in a June 2017 article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In September 2017, Jacobson sued both NAS and the first author of the article for libel in D.C. Superior Court. He also sued NAS for breach of contract.

In response, the co-defendants have each asked the court to dismiss the case under a D.C. law designed to curb so-called “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (SLAPP). Anti-SLAPP laws, which D.C. and 28 states have enacted, generally offer defendants a way to counter what they consider burdensome lawsuits that may have the effect of chilling speech on important issues. In a memo filed Nov. 27, 2017, in support of its motion, NAS claimed that Jacobson filed the suit: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

February 20th, 2018 at 5:02 pm

Posted in pnas

They thought they might solve the world’s energy problems. Then they realized they were wrong.

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Frederick MacDonnell

Researchers are retracting a 2016 PNAS paper that described a way to create gasoline-like fuels directly from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Senior author Frederick MacDonnell, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), told us he originally thought his team had made a preliminary breakthrough that might “solve the world’s energy problems.” Instead, he said:

It was an elaborate trap we fell into.

In a retraction notice that contains more information than we usually see, MacDonnell and his co-authors wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

University finds falsified data in PNAS gene therapy paper, authors retract

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A university investigation has found falsified data in a 2011 paper about the side effects of a virus commonly used in gene therapy.

The authors are retracting the paper, but one co-author told Retraction Watch they stand by their main conclusions. According to Roland Herzog, a professor at the University of Florida (UF) College of Medicine and a co-author of the paper, the falsified data were related to a minor part of the paper.

The paper, “Activation of the NF-κB pathway by adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors and its implications in immune response and gene therapy,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) in March 2011. All authors were affiliated with UF at the time; the handling editor, Kenneth Berns, is an emeritus professor at UF. The paper has been cited 50 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers call libel suit against journal and critic “lawless” but “well written”

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Mark Jacobson

A $10 million defamation suit filed by a Stanford University professor against a critic and a journal may be an assault on free speech, according to one lawyer, but at least it’s “well written.”

Kenneth White, a lawyer at Southern California firm Brown White & Osborn who frequently blogs about legal issues related to free speech at Popehat, told us:

It’s not incompetently drafted, but it’s clearly vexatious and intended to silence dissent about an alleged scientist’s peer-reviewed article.

Scientists have publicly bemoaned the suit’s existence, as reported by several outlets, including Mashable and Nature. Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor at Stanford, has alleged that he was defamed in a June article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which was critical of a 2015 paper co-authored by Jacobson in the same journal. In a complaint filed Sept. 29 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Jacobson accused the journal’s publisher, the National Academy of Sciences, and the paper’s first author, Christopher Clack, an executive at a renewable energy analysis firm, of libel.

White told us that there are several pitfalls that could trip up the lawsuit, including a DC law that allows defendants an early opportunity to ask the court to dismiss cases muzzling free speech and recover attorneys’ fees. But another attorney said the complaint should at least clear the lowest hurdle in the way of getting to trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

November 13th, 2017 at 11:10 am

Caught Our Notice: Investigation finds “accidental mistakes” in PNAS stem cell paper

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Via Wikimedia

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

Title: Combined hydrogels that switch human pluripotent stem cells from self-renewal to differentiation 

What caught our attention: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison Abritis

October 16th, 2017 at 8:30 am

Are rich people meaner? While trying to find out, two teams find errors in each other’s work

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Is having money linked to bad behavior?

A high profile paper published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) set out to answer that question — and found that yes, the more money people have, the more likely they are to lie, cheat, and steal. And the greedier they are, the worse they behave. But when a more recent paper tried to replicate some of those findings, it couldn’t.

It turns out, both the original paper and the paper that tried to replicate it contained errors. Although neither appear to affect the main conclusions, the authors of the 2016 replication recently issued a correction; the error in the 2012 paper was initially deemed too insignificant to correct, but the journal has decided to revisit the idea of issuing a correction.

A representative of PNAS told us that the replication paper — and reporting by Retraction Watch — is the reason why: Read the rest of this entry »

Third retraction for former rising star found guilty of misconduct

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A once-prominent researcher in the field of infectious disease — who was found guilty of misconduct last year— has had a third paper retracted, a 2006 article in PNAS.

Last year, the University of Dundee in Scotland found that Robert Ryan had committed research misconduct, which included misrepresenting clinical data and duplicating images in a dozen different publications. After a failed attempt to appeal the decision, Ryan resigned.

In April, we covered Ryan’s first two retractions – a 2012 paper in Molecular Microbiology, which cited image errors, and a 2011 paper in Journal of Bacteriology, which cited image duplication.

Now, PNAS has retracted a 2006 paper, which cites potential image duplication as well as “irregularities” in the data.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Cell–cell signaling in Xanthomonas campestris involves an HD-GYP domain protein that functions in cyclic di-GMP turnover:”

Read the rest of this entry »

Can we do math unconsciously? Replicators of a prominent 2012 study have some doubts

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In 2012, news media were abuzz with a new finding from PNAS: Authors based in Israel had found evidence that our brains can unconsciously process more than we thought — including basic math and reading.  In other words, the authors claimed people could read and do math without even knowing what they were doing.

With such a major development in the field of consciousness research, other groups quickly got to work trying to replicate the findings. Those efforts have taken some twists and turns — including a recent retraction of a replication paper that was, itself, not reproducible (which is not something we see every day). But overall, five years after the initial, remarkable result, the replication efforts are calling it into question.

According to Pieter Moors at KU Leuven, a researcher in this field:

Read the rest of this entry »

Dear journals: Clean up your act. Regards, Concerned Biostatistician

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Romain-Daniel Gosselin

Recently, a biostatistician sent an open letter to editors of 10 major science journals, urging them to pay more attention to common statistical problems with papers. Specifically, Romain-Daniel Gosselin, Founder and CEO of Biotelligences, which trains researchers in biostatistics, counted how many of 10 recent papers in each of the 10 journals contained two common problems: omitting the sample size used in experiments, as well as the tests used as part of the statistical analyses. (Short answer: Too many.) Below, we have reproduced his letter.

Dear Editors and Colleagues,

I write this letter as a biologist and instructor of biostatistics, concerned about the disregard for statistical reporting that is threatening scientific reproducibility. I hereby urge you to spearhead the strict application of existing guidelines on statistical reporting. Read the rest of this entry »

A diabetes researcher sued his former employer for defamation. Here’s the story.

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Franck Mauvais-Jarvis

The last decade hasn’t exactly been drama-free for Franck Mauvais-Jarvis, head of the Diabetes Research Program at Tulane University.

After being accused of falsifying three figures in a submitted manuscript, Mauvais-Jarvis sued his accusers and officials at his former employer — Northwestern University — for defamation and conspiracy in 2011.

In 2014, a judge dismissed the suit. We wish we could tell you more details about it—such as what the university’s misconduct investigation found, or how the lawsuit was concluded—but they remain shrouded in mystery. What we know is based on court records from the lawsuit, which we recently obtained through an unrelated public records request. Even without all the details, it’s a long, sordid tale, involving a lot of finger-pointing and allegations of misconduct.

In 2008, a former research technician in the lab of Mauvais-Jarvis, then an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University, raised concerns of fabrication in two figures in a paper on the regulation of insulin synthesis that had been submitted the Journal of Biological Chemistry. An inquiry committee at the university unanimously concluded that research misconduct charges against Mauvais-Jarvis were not credible.

But then a third figure in the manuscript was found to be “inaccurate,” and the university initiated a second inquiry. That’s when Mauvais-Jarvis — whose papers have been cited more than 2,000 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters — initiated a lawsuit. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Megan Scudellari

April 12th, 2017 at 9:30 am


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