Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘investigator error’ Category

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

with 15 comments

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: Read the rest of this entry »

Caught Our Notice: What if you find out a paper relied on expired herbal supplement?

with 13 comments

Via Wikimedia

Title: Exploration of inhibitory mechanisms of curcumin in lung cancer metastasis using a miRNA- transcription factor-target gene network

What Caught Our Attention: The researchers were studying how curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, can inhibit lung cancer metastases. But upon learning that the primary material had been expired at the time of testing (and realizing they were unable to repeat their experiments), the researchers pulled their paper. Expiration dates do have safety factors built in, but attention to such details is imperative in research.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison Abritis

December 4th, 2017 at 11:00 am

Researcher apologizes for ignoring early warnings about earthquake data

without comments

In 2016, three researchers published data they had collected on a series of devastating earthquakes that hit Japan earlier that year.

But, in late September 2017, one of the authors—Hiroyuki Goto—revealed that the Kumamoto Earthquake data contained “wide reaching errors”—and an outside expert had warned him the data might be problematic nine months earlier.  

Goto, an associate professor in the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at Kyoto University, issued two statements in which he acknowledged the errors, but did not indicate how they occurred. According to The Japan Times, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is investigating whether the data “was falsified or fabricated due to inconsistencies with other readings taken nearby.” A report in another Japanese paper, The Mainichi, notes that Osaka University—where one of the authors, Yoshiya Hata, works—is looking into the matter as well.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

October 18th, 2017 at 8:52 am

Boys will be boys: Data error prompts U-turn on study of sex differences in school

with one comment

The authors of a 2017 paper on emotional and behavioral gaps between boys and girls have retracted the article after discovering a coding error that completely undermined their conclusions.

The revelation prompted the researchers to republish their findings in the same journal, this time with a title that flips the narrative.

The PsychJournal study, first published in March, looked at self-regulation — loosely defined as the ability to get stuff done and keep a lid on it —  in boys and girls in German elementary schools. Although previous studies had found girls might do better on this front, the authors, from the University of Leipzig and New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus, initially found the opposite:

Read the rest of this entry »

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

with 8 comments

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 »

“The results are essentially meaningless:” Typos, missing variables found throughout physics paper

with 4 comments

A physics journal has retracted a 2014 paper after a reader discovered a slew of errors.

The paper, published in the Journal of Thermophysics and Heat Transfer, explored how the properties of nanofluidsfluids that contain nanoparticles—change as the fluid moves through different materials.  

According to the editor-in-chief, Greg Naterer, an outside expertAsterios Pantokratoras, based at Democritus University of Thrace in Greececontacted the journal in May 2017 after discovering “errors with symbols in equations and figures.” The journal investigated the concerns and reached out to the paper’s corresponding author V. Ramachandra Prasad at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science in India for a response; after several rounds of comments from Pantokratoras and Prasad, the journal concluded that the paper should be retracted.

Naterer explained: Read the rest of this entry »

Authors retract plant biology paper after they realized sample was contaminated

with 2 comments

Plant biologists from China have retracted a 2013 paper in The Plant Cell after discovering that some of the plant material used was “inadvertently contaminated.”

According to the retraction notice, the authors believe the contamination affects the main conclusion of their paper. Read the rest of this entry »

Prominent food researcher retracts paper from JAMA journal, replaces it with multiple fixes

with 5 comments

Brian Wansink

Earlier this week, we reported that high-profile food researcher Brian Wansink — who’s faced months of criticisms about his research — had issued his second retraction. On Thursday, he issued his third.

The retracted paper — a 2012 research letter in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, now JAMA Pediatrics — reported that children were more likely to choose an apple over a cookie if the apple included an Elmo sticker. The same day the paper was retracted, Wansink and his co-authors published a replacement version that includes multiple changes, including to the methodology and the results.

The retraction notice lists the mistakes, which the authors say they made “inadvertently:”

Read the rest of this entry »

“A gut-wrenching experience:” Authors retract, replace JAMA paper

without comments

When economist Jason Hockenberry looked at data comparing some of the financial issues facing different U.S. hospitals, he was surprised by what he saw.

Hockenberry was examining the effects of a recently introduced U.S. program that penalizes hospitals with relatively high rates of readmissions for certain conditions by reducing Medicare payments. Although Hockenberry expected hospitals that serve low-income and uninsured patients to have more readmissions (and therefore more penalties), he saw these so-called “safety-net hospitals” had been steadily improving their performance since the program began in 2012, and had faced fewer penalties over time.

The results were so striking, they ended up in JAMA on April 18, 2017. But within one week after publication, Hockenberry learned outside researchers had raised questions about the analysis.

The outside researchers thought the authors had incorrectly categorized some of the safety-net hospitals. After looking into their concerns, Hockenberry — based at Emory University in Atlanta — realized the analysis did contain errors that affect the findings. This week, he and his co-authors retracted the article, replacing it with a corrected version. The new paper still reports that the gap between the penalties faced by safety-net and non-safety-net hospitals is closing — but not for the reasons they initially thought.  

Read the rest of this entry »

“Devastating:” Authors retract paper in Nature journal upon discovering error

with 4 comments

Several years ago, Chris Dames thought he had made an exciting discovery, a “secret sauce” that would allow him to design a device using a novel mechanism.

In a 2014 Nature Communications paper, Dames—who works at the University of California at Berkeley—and his team described the first experimental results for the device, a photon thermal diode. A thermal diode conducts heat in one direction but not in the other, and in theory, could have broad applications—for example, provide barriers that shield buildings from excess heat or use heat to power computers.

But two years later, in August 2016, a colleague thought he had discovered a fundamental error in the design of the experiments. Bair Budaev, who also works at the University of California at Berkeley, believed that the authors made a “a fundamental symmetry error” which invalidated their results. Read the rest of this entry »