When it comes to authorship, how prolific is too prolific?

John Ioannidis

One of the suggestions we get regularly here at Retraction Watch is something along the lines of “This researcher publishes too much. You should look into that.” But how much is too much?

The phenomenon was the subject of a 2015 paper. It’s also the subject of a new article in Nature by John Ioannidis, of Stanford, and researchers at SciTech Strategies. The new article is unlikely to answer the question of how much is too much. But it provides some fascinating figures on just how often some authors publish, and even more so how they respond when asked just how they manage to publish so much, in the process raising questions about whether measuring productivity and quality in science should involve a ruler for stacked papers. Continue reading When it comes to authorship, how prolific is too prolific?

UPDATED: Elsevier retracts a paper on solar cells that appears to plagiarize a Nature journal. But the reason is…odd.

The similarities between recent papers in two different journals about energy were striking — so striking that a number of people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to let the world know about them.

[1415 UTC, August 29, 2018: See update at the end of this post.]

One paper, “Systematic investigation of the impact of operation conditions on the degradation behaviour of perovskite solar cells,” was authored by a group of researchers in Lausanne, Switzerland and appeared on January 1, 2018 in Nature Energy. Its abstract reads: Continue reading UPDATED: Elsevier retracts a paper on solar cells that appears to plagiarize a Nature journal. But the reason is…odd.

Researchers pull Nature paper over first author’s objections

Researchers have retracted a 2015 Nature paper about the molecular underpinnings of immune function after discovering they could not replicate key parts of the results.

The first author, Wendy Huang — who started working as an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, only months after the paper appeared — did not sign the retraction letter, published last week. The research was conducted while Huang was working as a postdoctoral fellow at New York University, home of last author Dan Littman (also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute).

What happened appears to be a case of “he said, she said:” Littman asked to retract the paper after his lab couldn’t reproduce it, and Huang insists the data remain correct, saying the process had been “unfair and done without due process:”

Continue reading Researchers pull Nature paper over first author’s objections

Thousands boycott new Nature journal about machine learning

More than two thousand researchers have signed a petition to boycott a new Nature journal over the fact it will be available only by subscription.

The new journal — Nature Machine Intelligence, about machine learning — plans to charge readers for access, unlike most other journals in the field. The researchers who signed the petition have pledged not to submit their work to the new journal, and will decline to review or edit papers for it, as well.

Most journals published by Nature Publishing Group are available only by subscription — but that doesn’t work for the machine learning community, the signatories argue:

Continue reading Thousands boycott new Nature journal about machine learning

Figures in cancer paper at root of newly failed compound called into question

How much role did a potentially problematic paper play in the demise of a once-promising compound?

Researchers are questioning the validity of a high-profile article, published by Nature in 2006. Although the letter is 12 years old, the concerns have current implications: It was among the early evidence used to develop a cancer compound that recently failed a number of clinical trials.

It’s unclear whether the problems with the paper — if validated — could have contributed to the compound’s demise. But an outside expert has some thoughts — and so do image experts and multiple external reports, including one released this month, which agree the concerns about the figures have merit. (The first author’s ex-husband isn’t too happy with the article, either.)

Continue reading Figures in cancer paper at root of newly failed compound called into question

Over a dozen editorial board members resigned when a journal refused to retract a paper. Today, it’s retracted.

Following a massive editorial protest, Scientific Reports is admitting its handling of a disputed paper was “insufficient and inadequate,” and has agreed to retract it.

The 2016 paper was initially corrected by the journal, after a researcher at Johns Hopkins University, Michael Beer, accused it of lifting some of his earlier work. After we covered the story, nearly two dozen Hopkins researchers threatened to resign from the journal’s editorial board if the journal didn’t retract the paper — and many followed through with that threat after the journal reaffirmed its initial decision. In response, the journal said it would assemble a “senior editorial committee” to review its decision-making.

That committee, it appears, has determined that the journal erred in its initial decision. According to a statement from the journal provided to Retraction Watch:

Continue reading Over a dozen editorial board members resigned when a journal refused to retract a paper. Today, it’s retracted.

“Major advance” in solar power retracted for reproducibility issues

The authors of a highly cited 2016 research letter on a way to improve the efficiency of solar panels have retracted their work following “concerns about the reproducibility.”

Given the potential importance of the data, it would be nice to know what exactly went wrong, and why. However, the retraction notice doesn’t provide many details, and doesn’t even specify if the authors did indeed fail to reproduce the data.

The letter, titled “Graded bandgap perovskite solar cells,” was published in Nature Materials by a group out of the University of California at Berkeley and the affiliated Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The 2016 article has been cited 16 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it the ranking of “highly cited.”

Berkeley heralded the findings in a press release as a “major advance” in the field of solar energy:

Continue reading “Major advance” in solar power retracted for reproducibility issues

Ever been asked to remove a reference for libel concerns? These authors have

Last month, Nature Ecology & Evolution published a series of responses to a previous article recommending essential reading for all ecologists. In one response, the authors argue that the list is highly biased in favor of white male authors, and raises the problem of bullying and harassment in academia. But the letter is missing one key reference from its original submission: To a recent news story in Science reporting “disturbing” sexual harassment allegations against a prominent field researcher.

Why is the reference missing?

Because the editor at Nature Ecology & Evolution asked the authors to take it out, citing concerns about libel.

Here’s the note the authors received on their original submission:

Continue reading Ever been asked to remove a reference for libel concerns? These authors have

”Definitely embarrassing:” Nobel Laureate retracts non-reproducible paper in Nature journal

A Nobel Laureate has retracted a 2016 paper in Nature Chemistry that explored the origins of life on earth, after discovering the main conclusions were not correct.  

Some researchers who study the origins of life on Earth have hypothesized that RNA evolved before DNA or proteins.  If true, RNA would have needed a way to replicate without enzymes. The Nature Chemistry paper found that a certain type of peptide — which may have existed in our early history — made it possible for RNA to copy itself.

Jack W. Szostaka professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider for their pioneering research on aging—told us he was “incredibly excited” when he “thought we had at least a partial solution to this problem,” which researchers have been working on for over 50 years.  

But in subsequent experiments, Tivoli Olsen — a member of Szostak’s lab — could not reproduce the 2016 findings. When she reviewed the experiments from the Nature Chemistry paper, she found that the team had misinterpreted the initial data: The peptide in question did not appear to provide an environment that fostered RNA replication.

The errors were “definitely embarrassing,” Szostak told us: Continue reading ”Definitely embarrassing:” Nobel Laureate retracts non-reproducible paper in Nature journal

Journal to assemble “senior editorial committee” to review paper that led to board resignations

Following heavy criticism of its decision to correct — instead of retract — a paper accused of plagiarism, Scientific Reports is adding an editor’s note to the paper and forming a committee to review the case.

The 2016 paper in question has been accused of plagiarism by a researcher at Johns Hopkins, Michael Beer. Following the initial allegation, the journal decided to correct, not retract, the paper. After we covered the story, nearly two dozen Hopkins researchers threatened to resign if the journal didn’t retract the paper. This week, the journal reaffirmed its initial decision, and the resignations are pouring in.

Yesterday, Suzanne Farley, Executive Editor of Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group journal, sent us a statement:

Continue reading Journal to assemble “senior editorial committee” to review paper that led to board resignations