Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘ecology’ Category

Error-laden database kills paper on extinction patterns

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An ecologist in Australia realized a database he was using to spot trends in extinction patterns was problematic, affecting two papers. One journal issued an expression of concern, which has since turned into a retraction. So far, the other journal has left the paper untouched.

The now-retracted paper concluded that medium-sized species on islands tend to go extinct more often than large or small mammalian species. But a little over a year ago, Biology Letters flagged the paper with an expression of concern (EOC), noting “concerns regarding the validity of some of the data and methods used in the analysis.”

Now, last author Marcel Cardillo at Australian National University has come to a new conclusion about extinction patterns. A retraction notice that has replaced the EOC explains:

Read the rest of this entry »

“A sinking feeling in my gut:” Diary of a retraction

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Daniel Bolnick is photographed at HHMI’s Janelia Farms campus on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013 in Ashburn, Va. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for HHMI)

When an ecologist realized he’d made a fatal error in a 2009 paper, he did the right thing: He immediately contacted the journal (Evolutionary Ecology Research) to ask for a retraction. But he didn’t stop there: He wrote a detailed blog post outlining how he learned — in October 2016, after a colleague couldn’t recreate his data — he had misused a statistical tool (using R programing), which ended up negating his findings entirely. We spoke to Daniel Bolnick at the University of Texas at Austin (and an early career scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) about what went wrong with his paper “Diet similarity declines with morphological distance between conspecific individuals,” and why he chose to be so forthright about it.

Retraction Watch: You raise a good point in your explanation of what went wrong with the statistical analysis: Eyeballing the data, they didn’t look significant. But when you plugged in the numbers (it turns out, incorrectly), they were significant – albeit weakly. So you reported the result. Did this teach you the importance of trusting your gut, and the so-called “eye-test” when looking at data? Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

December 8th, 2016 at 9:30 am

Stolen data prompts Science to flag debated study of fish and plastics

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scienceIn August, Science told us it was considering adding an Expression of Concern to a high-profile paper about how human pollution is harming fish — and yesterday, the journal did it.

The move comes after a group of researchers alleged the paper contains missing data, and the authors followed a problematic methodology. In September, however, the co-authors’ institution, Uppsala University in Sweden, concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to launch a misconduct investigation.

The notice from Science stems from the theft of a computer carrying some of the paper’s raw data, making it impossible to reproduce some of its findings: Read the rest of this entry »

Tomato study didn’t get co-author okays, includes unreliable data

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scientia-horticulturaeA journal has retracted a paper examining the traits of drought-resistant tomatoes after an investigation at the first author’s institution in Italy found a number of problems.

For starters, the first author — Maria Riccardi of the National Research Council of Italy-Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean (CNR-ISAFOM) in Ercolano, Naples, Italy — apparently submitted the paper without consulting the study’s four other listed co-authors. What’s more, according to the retraction notice in Scientia Horticulturae, the paper’s description of the experiment “does not reflect the real conditions under which the data was collected,” rendering the findings invalid.  

Riccardo d’Andria, CNR-ISAFOM’s former director who conducted an investigation into the case, said Read the rest of this entry »

Should journals reject papers solely on ethical grounds?

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Recently, an ecology journal received a submission that made them pause. In order to conduct their research, the authors had to kill thousands of fish. The study had been approved by conservation authorities, but it still wasn’t sitting well with the journal.

So it rejected the paper, on ethical grounds.

Biological Conservation explained its decision in a recent paper, noting the killing of thousands of vertebrates (marine and freshwater fish) in a protected area was “unnecessary and inappropriate,” and adds the journal will continue questioning and rejecting papers that “do not meet reasonable standards of practice.”

This is not a universal practice, however — years ago, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published the results of a research project that resulted in 90 people becoming infected with HIV. Again, that study had obtained the necessary ethical approvals — but should the journal act as the final judge?

According to the editors of Biological Conservation, yes. In “Field work ethics in biological research,” they write: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Dalmeet Singh Chawla

November 15th, 2016 at 11:30 am

Two journals, same name: Did one editor retract the other’s paper?

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amphibian-and-reptile-conservationTwo journals sharing the same title — allegedly due to an “academic divorce” between the founders — are giving two different accounts to why a paper may (or may not) have been retracted.

Confused yet? We are.

Here’s what we can piece together. The journal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation once had two editors, Craig Hassapakis and Robert Browne; both names appear on the same cover of a 2011-2012 issue of the journal, as librarian Jeffrey Beall noted in a blog post published last year. But since then, there seems to have been an “academic split” between the two (as defined by Beall), and each now publishes a different version of the publication named Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

Recently, we came across a 2013 paper co-authored by Browne marked “Retracted” on the version of the site founded by Craig HassapakisBrowne’s version of the journal can be found here

Meanwhile, the study’s first author, Omar Fadhil Al-Sheikhly from the University of Baghdad in Iraq, claims the paper was never retracted in the first place: Read the rest of this entry »

Should journals abolish word limits for papers?

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We’re asking ourselves that question after reading a recent paper which shows that — in the ecology literature, at least — longer papers gather more citations.

In “Citations increase with manuscript length, author number, and references cited in ecology journals,” Charles Fox at the University of Kentucky and his colleagues found exactly what the title specifies — ecology papers published between 2009 and 2012 received more citations if they were longer, included more authors, and/or had a longer list of references.

It wasn’t a big difference, the authors note in Ecology and Evolution: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

October 25th, 2016 at 11:30 am

Posted in ecology

Ecology journal flags carnivore paper under investigation

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journal-of-applied-ecologyAn ecology journal has issued an expression of concern (EOC) for a recently published study, citing an institutional investigation about the data and conclusions.

According to the notice — issued by the Journal of Applied Ecology — the author’s institution in South Africa has received a report from an independent examiner. The editors are reviewing the paper — about reducing the impact of lethal carnivores such as black-backed jackals — “in light of this information.”

An official from the journal told us the investigation has to do with “relevant background information” that was not included in the study, published online in December.

Here’s the EOC, published earlier this month: Read the rest of this entry »

Inquiry finds no evidence of misconduct in high-profile Science paper flagged by allegations

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scienceAn expert group at Uppsala University has recommended not proceeding with a full investigation into allegations of misconduct in a high-profile Science paper showing how human pollution may be harming fish.

The June paper — which caught the media’s attention for suggesting fish larvae are eating small particles of plastic rather than their natural prey — became the focus of scrutiny soon after it was published when a group of researchers raised allegations of misconduct. Earlier this year, Science told us it was considering issuing an Expression of Concern (EOC) for the paper, and Uppsala said it was conducting an inquiry, the first step in determining whether to launch a formal investigation.

The expert group who conducted the preliminary investigation has ultimately recommended against an investigation of the paper, according to an Uppsala spokesperson: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

September 20th, 2016 at 2:15 pm

War over whistleblower protection for Kansas ecology prof wages on

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nsfA contentious case over whether a fired ecologist deserves whistleblower protection is playing out in Kansas, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) has once again weighed in.

For the second time, the NSF has told the researcher, Joseph Craine, that he does not qualify for protection as a whistleblower after he was fired from Kansas State University (KSU) for sharing misconduct allegations with a journal editor.

Craine initially asked the NSF for whistleblower protection status in 2014, arguing that he had been retaliated against for making misconduct allegations to the journal Ecology. The NSF denied Craine’s claim, but Craine appealed to federal court, which found the NSF’s reasoning opaque and remanded the case back to the agency. On June 24, the NSF’s General Counsel Lawrence Rudolph issued a new 11-page letter that lays out the basis for its decision: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Brendan Borrell

July 19th, 2016 at 9:30 am