Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘doing the right thing’ Category

Fracking paper overstated size of methane leak from Marcellus Shale, earning retraction

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via Greens-EFA

Last spring, a group of environmental scientists reported an impressive finding: Hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking) in the Marcellus Shale region of the eastern United States was leaking enough methane to power a city twice the size of Washington, D.C. (We didn’t come up with that comparison, apt though it may be.)

Turns out that wasn’t true. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by amarcus41

January 22nd, 2018 at 5:31 pm

“A painful lesson:” Authors retract paper after discovering mislabeled mouse lines

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Neuroscientists have retracted a 2016 paper examining the genetic underpinnings of a degenerative motor neuron disease, after discovering that two mouse lines had been accidentally mislabeled.

According to the retraction notice, published in December in Acta Neuropathologica Communications, mice engineered to have a specific genetic mutation were mislabeled as the normal or wild type group.

The notice cites an investigation by the University of Florida; we asked the university for a copy of the report. The university sent us a redacted document, which a spokesperson told us was a self-report from the researchers regarding the mislabeling. The spokesperson explained: Read the rest of this entry »

They thought they might solve the world’s energy problems. Then they realized they were wrong.

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Frederick MacDonnell

Researchers are retracting a 2016 PNAS paper that described a way to create gasoline-like fuels directly from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Senior author Frederick MacDonnell, a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA), told us he originally thought his team had made a preliminary breakthrough that might “solve the world’s energy problems.” Instead, he said:

It was an elaborate trap we fell into.

In a retraction notice that contains more information than we usually see, MacDonnell and his co-authors wrote: Read the rest of this entry »

PNAS retraction weakens theory that fish travel with siblings

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In 2016, researchers at Oregon State University published a paper in PNAS that surprised the research community. They showed that certain fish species travel with their siblings — even fighting against the currents of the Pacific Ocean to stay together.

Needless to say, the research community was skeptical, given how difficult a feat this would be. And their skepticism appears to have been warranted.

Recently, the authors — led by Su Sponaugle — retracted the paper, saying a re-analysis of their data using newly developed research tools has erased their confidence in the results. According to Sponaugle, the quick reversal was thanks to the new technology and open data sharing, which led their findings to be successfully challenged within months of publication. She said her team conducted the study with the “best available knowledge we had at the time,” including what they thought were the most advanced tools available to them: 

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew P. Han

December 21st, 2017 at 8:00 am

Caught Our Notice: Oops — 10-fold error reverses heart warning for Ghanaians

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Via Wikimedia

Title: Ghanaians Might Be at Risk of Inadequate Dietary Intake of Potassium

What Caught Our Attention: Potassium-rich diets are thought to be “heart-healthy,” and after examining the average dietary habits of Ghanaian adults, researchers determined the average potassium (K) intake to be well below global standards.  However, the authors’ calculations of potassium intake per capita were too low by factor of 10, resulting in the incorrect conclusion that the average potassium intake was only 856 mg per day, an amount substantially lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 3510 mg/day.  The new calculations show an average K intake of 8,560 mg/day, well over the WHO guideline.  

We asked the corresponding author, David Oscar Yawson, about the source of the error, and he responded:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison Abritis

December 20th, 2017 at 8:00 am

Caught Our Notice: A retraction that is “useful for investigators”

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Via Wikimedia

Title:  Yeast CAF-1 assembles histone (H3-H4) 2 tetramers prior to DNA deposition

What Caught Our Attention: Informative retraction notices can be infrequent, but rarer still are notices that fulfill an oft-ignored function: To be a source of learning for others in the field. Here, the authors offer a nearly 800-word “detailed description of the issues” with “some observations that may be useful for investigators conducting similar studies.” These authors embraced the retraction process, carefully explaining their findings or the lack thereof, for each figure from their now-retracted paper.     Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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 »

Errors in govt database prompt authors to retract and replace paper in JAMA journal

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Researchers have retracted and replaced a June 2016 paper in JAMA Internal Medicine after discovering errors in their data.

The paper explored whether Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) — groups of health care providers who earn more when they deliver high-quality care without boosting costs  — improve care and lower health care costs for Medicare patients. The paper’s corresponding author, Carrie H. Colla, and her colleagues examined Medicare data over five years and found the ACOs provided “ modest savings on average”  and less hospital care.  

But the data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) contained errors. According to Colla, after the paper was published, CMS “let us know in the fall [2016] that there were errors in the files, but weren’t able to give us final replacement files until winter.” Read the rest of this entry »

Authors retract plant biology paper after they realized sample was contaminated

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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 »

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

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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.  

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