Archive for the ‘doing the right thing’ Category
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?
“To our horror”: Widely reported study suggesting divorce is more likely when wives fall ill gets axed
A 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:
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.
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 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.
As 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.
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:
“[T]hese things can happen in every lab:” Mutant plant paper uprooted after authors correct their own findings
Three 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 »
“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.
The “worst moment of my scientific career:” Two bird migration articles brought down by analytical error
Evolutionary and conservation biologists in Spain are retracting two articles – one from the Journal of Avian Biology and the other from Ardeola – because they discovered a fatal flaw in their analysis.
The Journal of Avian Biology article, “Are European birds leaving traditional wintering grounds in the Mediterranean?” aimed to determine whether the abundance of passerines had decreased in recent decades, but failed to control for birds that may have gotten killed by hunters. Although it was published in January, we can only find an abstract from its acceptance by the journal in November 2014.
Although they are confident that the strategy is sound, the authors write in their commendably detailed retraction notice that the “inadvertent error” rendered the results “uninterpretable.”