How a typo in a catalog number led to the correction of a scientific paper — and what we can learn from that

Anita Bandrowski

Papers are corrected for lots of different reasons. In this guest post, Anita Bandrowski, who leads an initiative designed to help researchers identify their reagents correctly, describes one unusual reason for a correction — and explains what researchers can learn from the episode.

Last December, Tianyi Wang and her colleagues published a very interesting paper in Cell Metabolism on the potential link between a gene called JAK/STAT3 and breast cancer. It turns out that breast cancers become resistant to chemotherapy via a pathway that involves JAK/STAT3, and blocking this pathway can re-sensitize the tumor to chemotherapy.

But six months later, they corrected the paper — because of typos in the catalog numbers they’d used. Continue reading How a typo in a catalog number led to the correction of a scientific paper — and what we can learn from that

Caught Our Notice: A team from Harvard, Cornell, Cambridge, HHMI, and UCSF can’t reproduce a paper’s findings

What Caught Our Attention: Any time there’s an issue with a paper co-authored by researchers from such high-profile institutions as Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Cambridge, we take notice. In this case, the group — which included Laurie Glimcher, then-dean at Cornell, now president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute — chose to retract a 2013 paper from a Cell journal after learning they couldn’t reproduce some of the experiments. Continue reading Caught Our Notice: A team from Harvard, Cornell, Cambridge, HHMI, and UCSF can’t reproduce a paper’s findings

Delays, arguing over upcoming Cell retraction leave first author “devastated”

After being “blindsided” a few months ago when she was told one of her 2005 papers was going to be retracted, a researcher scrambled to get information about why. And when she didn’t like the answers, she took to PubPeer.

Eight days ago, Shalon (Babbitt) Ledbetter, the first author of the 2005 paper published in Cell, posted a comment on the site announcing the paper was going to be retracted after the last author’s institution, Saint Louis University (SLU), determined that some figures had been manipulated by the last author, Dorota Skowrya. A letter dated September 2, 2015 sent by SLU to Cell describes the results of the investigation — namely, that the manipulations were “cosmetic,” and had no effect on the data or the conclusions. More than two years later, Ledbetter learned the journal was planning to retract the paper, and an initial draft of the notice wouldn’t identify who was responsible; she has since been pulled into a confusing web of blame-shifting and conflicting information that has been, in her words, “heartbreaking.”

Ledbetter wrote on PubPeer:

Continue reading Delays, arguing over upcoming Cell retraction leave first author “devastated”

Researcher at Japan stem cell institute falsified nearly all images in 2017 paper

Shinya Yamanaka

An investigation by Kyoto University in Japan has found a researcher guilty of falsifying all but one of the figures in a 2017 stem cell paper.

Yesterday, Kyoto University announced that the paper’s first author, Kohei Yamamizu, had fabricated and falsified data in the Stem Cell Reports paper. According to the investigation report, none of the other authors were involved in the data manipulation.

Yamamizu works at the Center for iPS cell Research and Application (CiRA) at Kyoto University, directed by Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel Prize winner for his pioneering work in stem cell biology.

A spokesperson for the journal told us that the authors disclosed the problems last week and Stem Cell Reports will be retracting the paper, published last February.

In the university’s official statement, Yamanaka said: Continue reading Researcher at Japan stem cell institute falsified nearly all images in 2017 paper

Genetic disorder gets name change, but patient’s father still not happy

Credit: Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man

The leading genetic disease database has chosen a new name for a genetic condition, following complaints from a man whose son has the condition.

On Aug. 11, 2017, two days after our coverage of the situation, the Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man (OMIM) database changed the primary name of the phenotype associated with mutations in the RPS23 gene. The new name describes a set of features: “Brachycephaly, Trichomegaly, and Developmental Delay,” or BTDD.

Brachycephaly describes a condition where the back of the head is abnormally flat and trichomegaly refers to extra length, curling, pigmentation, or thickness of the eyelashes.

Marc Pieterse, of the Netherlands, has a son with the rare RPS23 mutation, one of two known patients in the world. The mutation affects ribosomes, cell components involved in protein production. On Aug. 9, we reported on Pieterse’s crusade against OMIM’s original name for the condition, which dubbed it a syndrome. He has feared that calling it a syndrome would “stigmatize” his son’s condition and tried to get the paper underpinning the OMIM entry retracted. The American Journal of Human Genetics has said it will not retract the paper.

Continue reading Genetic disorder gets name change, but patient’s father still not happy

Fearing “stigmatization,” patient’s father seeks retraction of paper on rare genetic mutation

The father of a boy with a rare genetic mutation has accused a scientist of exploiting his child by proclaiming the defect a “genetic syndrome” and naming it after herself.

At an impasse with scientists investigating, publicizing, and interpreting his son’s condition, the father seems willing to use any leverage he can muster to remove the “syndrome” entry in an online genetic disease database. Based solely on an email he obtained from the database director, the father became convinced that if the paper underpinning the entry were retracted, the syndrome would go down with it. So earlier this year, he withdrew his consent and asked the journal that published the paper for a retraction, based on improper patient consent. He has also threatened to lob accusations of research misconduct at the paper’s last author. Continue reading Fearing “stigmatization,” patient’s father seeks retraction of paper on rare genetic mutation

Why did it take a journal two years to retract a paper after a misconduct finding?

A 2014 paper containing data manipulated by a former graduate student has finally been retracted, two years after the U.S. Office of Research Integrity (ORI) published its findings.

In August 2015, the ORI published a report that Peter Littlefield, who was working on his PhD at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), had committed “research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data” in two papers. Littlefield agreed to correct or retract the papers–one published in Chemistry & Biology and the other in Science Signaling.  

When we contacted Chemistry & Biology back in August 2015, a spokesperson for Cell Press told us the journal was figuring out “the best way to correct the scientific record.”

Apparently that took two years. In the meantime, the journal did not issue an expression of concern or otherwise notify readers of the issues. Continue reading Why did it take a journal two years to retract a paper after a misconduct finding?

Journal retracts paper eight months after U.S. Feds announce findings of misconduct

In August, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity announced that a former postdoctoral fellow at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) doctored data in two published papers.

It took one journal a little longer than five months to remove the researcher’s name from the co-author list, and replace one figure.

It took the second journal more than eight months to retract the paper.

Here’s the notice for “A BLOC-1 Mutation Screen Reveals that PLDN Is Mutated in Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome Type 9,” published by the American Journal of Human Genetics (AJHG):

Continue reading Journal retracts paper eight months after U.S. Feds announce findings of misconduct

Researchers retract two well-cited papers for misconduct

A scientist in Germany has lost two papers that were collectively cited more than 500 times, after an investigation at her former university found her guilty of scientific misconduct.

The probe into Tina Wenz by the University of Cologne in Germany, her former employer, recommended that six of her papers — which have induced some chatter on PubPeer — should be retracted. One of these papers was pulled by Cell Metabolism last year. Now, Cell Metabolism has pulled another of Wenz’s papers, and she has also lost another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which was previously corrected. 

First, here’s the PNAS retraction notice, issued today: Continue reading Researchers retract two well-cited papers for misconduct

How a Cell journal weeds out the “bad apples”

Anne Granger (left) and Nikla Emambokus (right)
Anne Granger (left) and Nikla Emambokus (right)

There are a lot of accusations about research misconduct swirling around, and not every journal handles them the same. Recently, Cell Metabolism Scientific Editor Anne Granger and Cell Metabolism Editor-in-Chief Nikla Emambokus shared some details about their investigative procedure in “Weeding out the Bad Apples.” We talked to them about why they don’t necessarily trust accusations leveled on blogs (including ours), but will consider the concerns of anyone who approaches the journal directly – even anonymously.

Retraction Watch: What made you decide to write an editorial about research fraud now? Continue reading How a Cell journal weeds out the “bad apples”