Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘doing the right thing’ Category

“Whoops.” Paper cites retracted gay canvassing paper — but blame me, says journal editor

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arch sex behavBy now, most Retraction Watch readers are likely familiar with the retraction in May of a much-ballyhooed study in Science on whether gay canvassers could persuade people to agree with same-sex marriage. It turns out that before that retraction appeared, a different study that cited the Science paper made its way online.

Kenneth Zucker, the editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior, which published the study online in February, 2015, decided he had some ‘splaining to do. The article has now been published as the lead paper in the current issue of the journal, which also includes a comment from Zucker. He explains what happened: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

September 4th, 2015 at 11:30 am

Analysis of pilots with prostate cancer retracted for “inappropriate data”

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Aerospace Medicine and Human PerformanceIn case any pilots out there are worrying about their risk of prostate cancer based on a recent meta-analysis that found they are at least twice as likely to develop the disease, they should relax — the paper has been retracted.

The reason: “including inappropriate data from two studies that should be ineligible.”

“The risk of prostate cancer in pilots: a meta-analysis” reviewed eight studies to determine whether airline pilots, who are regularly exposed to radiation and other occupational hazards, have a higher incidence of prostate cancer. However, it also included studies that reported on prostate cancer among all U.S. Armed Forces servicemen, not pilots.

The retraction notice was posted in May — only months after it was published in Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance in February. The notice included a letter to the editor outlining flaws in the meta-analysis and an apologetic response from first author, David Raslau at the Mayo Clinic.

Here’s the notice (appearing at the bottom of page 2):

Read the rest of this entry »

What do you do after painful retractions? Q&A with Pamela Ronald and Benjamin Schwessinger

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Pamela Ronald and Benjamin Schwessinger, wearing the shirts of a swim competition they entered

2013 was a rough year for biologist Pamela Ronald. After discovering the protein that appears to trigger rice’s immune system to fend off a common bacterial disease – suggesting a new way to engineer disease-resistant crops – she and her team had to retract two papers in 2013 after they were unable to replicate their findings. The culprits: a mislabeled bacterial strain and a highly variable assay. However, the care and transparency she exhibited earned her a “doing the right thing” nod from us at the time.

After many months spent understanding what went wrong and redoing the experiments correctly, today Ronald and her team release another paper in Science Advances that reveals the protein they thought they had identified in 2013.

Ronald and co-first author Benjamin Schwessinger (who recently became an independent research fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra) spoke to us about the experience of recovering from the retractions and finally getting it right. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

-What did you do differently this time so you didn’t repeat the same mistakes?

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Written by Alison McCook

July 24th, 2015 at 2:00 pm

“To our horror”: Widely reported study suggesting divorce is more likely when wives fall ill gets axed

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home_coverA widely reported finding that the risk of divorce increases when wives fall ill — but not when men do — is invalid, thanks to a short string of mistaken coding that negates the original conclusions, published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

The paper, “In Sickness and in Health? Physical Illness as a Risk Factor for Marital Dissolution in Later Life,” garnered coverage in many news outlets, including The Washington Post, New York magazine’s The Science of Us blog, The Huffington Post, and the UK’s Daily Mail 

But an error in a single line of the coding that analyzed the data means the conclusions in the paper — and all the news stories about those conclusions — are “more nuanced,” according to first author Amelia Karraker, an assistant professor at Iowa State University.

Karraker — who seems to be handling the case quickly and responsibly —  emailed us how she realized the error:

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Misidentified genetic sequence causes retraction of pathogen paper one month after publication

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Genome Announcements

The author of an article mapping the genome of an infectious bacterium is pulling the paper because — well, it wasn’t the bacterium she thought it was.

Study author Celia Abolnik is retracting her paper in Genome Announcements because it didn’t actually map out the DNA of Mycoplasma meleagridis, a bacterium that typically infects turkeys but has recently been found in chickens.

The trouble was, the sequence for Mycoplasma meleagridis in the National Institute of Health’s DNA database, Genbank, was actually a different variety of bacteria — Mycoplasma gallinaceum, another scourge of poultry.

Here’s the notice for “Complete Genome Sequence of Mycoplasma meleagridis, a Possible Emerging Pathogen in Chickens:”

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Rabbit redo: Paper on lepus hepatitis pulled for mutation that “was not supposed to be present”

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JGVThe authors of recent article about the rabbit hepatitis E virus have pulled the paper after discovering an unexpected mutation in their viral clone that likely affected the analysis.

They realized their mistake soon after the article, “RNA transcripts of full-length cDNA clones of rabbit hepatitis E virus are infectious in rabbits,” was published online in the Journal of General Virology in November, 2014. They withdrew the article before it made it into print.

The article came from a group led by Xiang-Jin Meng, of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, an offshoot of Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland.

Here’s the notice, which — tsk tsk — sits behind a pay wall: Read the rest of this entry »

The consequences of retraction: Do scientists forgive and forget?

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NBERHere at Retraction Watch, we are reminded every day that everybody  (including us) makes mistakes — what matters is, how you handle yourself when it happens. That’s why we created a “doing the right thing” category, to flag incidents where scientists have owned up to their errors and taken steps to correct them.

We’re not suggesting retractions have no effect on a scientist’s career — a working paper posted last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that principal investigators with retracted papers see an average drop of 10% in citations of their other papers, a phenomenon known as a citation penalty. But they face a bigger penalty if the retraction stemmed from misconduct, rather than an honest mistake.

This jibes with research we’ve seen before, which shows the scientific community can be forgiving when researchers own up to their mistakes – notably, a 2013 study that found scientists face no citation penalty if they ask to retract their own papers, rather than forcing the journal or publisher to act.

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Written by Alison McCook

June 16th, 2015 at 8:00 am

Fungus among us, but what kind? Typing error spawns retraction for mushroom paper

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natprodresAs every mushroom lover knows, weekend mycology is no sport for the lily-livered. Tasty species often look awfully like their deadly cousins. Turns out, typing can even be problematic for the experts.

Natural Products Research is retracting a 2014 paper on shelf fungus because… well, it wasn’t about shelf fungus after all.

The paper, “Chemical constituents: water-soluble vitamins, free amino acids and sugar profile from Ganoderma adspersum,” was written by Ibrahim Kivrak, a food chemist at Mugla Sitki Kocman University in Mugla, Turkey. It analyzed the nutritional components of G. adspersum, and found, per the abstract:

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“[T]hese things can happen in every lab:” Mutant plant paper uprooted after authors correct their own findings

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FrontiersThree biologists at Tokyo Gakugei University in Japan have retracted a 2014 Frontiers in Plant Science paper on abnormal root growth in Arabidopsis “in light of new experimental evidence” showing they fingered the wrong mutant gene. The journal editors are hailing the retraction as an “excellent example of self-correction of the scientific record.”

The paper, “Mechanosensitive channel candidate MCA2 is involved in touch-induced root responses in Arabidopsis,” described the abnormally behaving roots of a mca2-null mutant Arabidopsis plant.

A subsequent string of experiments by the same research team—including DNA microarrays, RT-PCR, and a PCR-based genomic deletion analysis—demonstrated that two other mutations that somehow creeped into their experimental populations may have been to blame for the abnormal root behavior.

It’s a notably thorough and informative retraction notice from Frontiers, an open-access publisher with a history of badly handled and controversial retractions and publishing decisions. The notice describes the new experiments and the previous, erroneous results: Read the rest of this entry »

Chip slip: Irreproducibility erases computer memory paper

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nanoscaleResearchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have retracted a paper in Nanoscale about an experimental computer chip after they were unable to recreate their published results.

“We retract this article to avoid misleading readers and intend to undertake further tests to confirm our previous results,” they write in the notice.

The scientists are working on developing a chip that uses resistive random-access memory, which allows a huge amount of information to be stored in a tiny package and accessed quickly while using very little power. A number of companies are working on the technology, but none have successfully commercialized it.

Here’s the notice for “High uniformity and improved nonlinearity by embedding nanocrystals in selector-less resistive random access memory” (free, but requires login): Read the rest of this entry »