Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

“Ethical ambiguity:” When scientific misconduct isn’t black and white

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David Johnson

Elaine Howard Ecklund

Some types of misconduct are obvious – most researchers would agree cooking data and plagiarizing someone’s work are clear no-nos. But what about overhyping your findings? Using funding allocated to an unrelated project, if it keeps a promising young student afloat? On these so-called “gray” areas of research behavior, people aren’t so clear what to do. A few years ago, David R. Johnson at the University of Nevada Reno and Elaine Howard Ecklund at Rice University interviewed hundreds of physicists; their conclusions appeared recently in Science and Engineering Ethics (and online in 2015).

Retraction Watch: Your paper discusses “ethical ambiguity” – what does that mean? Can you provide examples of such behavior?

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Written by Alison McCook

April 20th, 2017 at 12:00 pm

A new record: Major publisher retracting more than 100 studies from cancer journal over fake peer reviews

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Springer is retracting 107 papers from one journal after discovering they had been accepted with fake peer reviews. Yes, 107.

To submit a fake review, someone (often the author of a paper) either makes up an outside expert to review the paper, or suggests a real researcher — and in both cases, provides a fake email address that comes back to someone who will invariably give the paper a glowing review. In this case, Springer, the publisher of Tumor Biology through 2016, told us that an investigation produced “clear evidence” the reviews were submitted under the names of real researchers with faked emails. Some of the authors may have used a third-party editing service, which may have supplied the reviews. The journal is now published by SAGE.

The retractions follow another sweep by the publisher last year, when Tumor Biology retracted 25 papers for compromised review and other issues, mostly authored by researchers based in Iran. With the latest bunch of retractions, the journal has now retracted the most papers of any other journal indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters. In 2015, its impact factor — 2.9 — ranked it 104th out of 213 oncology journals.

Here’s more from Springer’s official statement, out today:

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Written by Alison McCook

April 20th, 2017 at 9:00 am

“Think of the unthinkable:” JAMA retraction prompts author to urge others to share data

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A few months ago, a researcher told Evelien Oostdijk there might be a problem with a 2014 JAMA study she had co-authored.

The study had compared two methods of preventing infection in the intensive care unit (ICU). But a separate analysis had produced different results.

Oostdijk, from the University Medical Center Utrecht in The Netherlands, immediately got to work to try to figure out what was going on. And she soon discovered the problem: The coding for the two interventions had been reversed at one of the 16 ICUs. This switch had “a major impact on the study outcome,” last author Marc Bonten, also from the University Medical Center Utrecht, wrote in a blog post about the experience yesterday, because it occurred at “one of the largest participating ICUs.”

When Oostdijk and a researcher not involved in the study analyzed the data again, they discovered a notable difference between the revised and original findings: The new analysis revealed that one of the interventions had a small but significant survival benefit over the other.

Oostdijk and Bonten, who supervised the re-analysis, notified their colleagues of the revised study outcomes and contacted the journal requesting a retraction and replacement, which was published yesterday in JAMA.

According to the notice of retraction and replacement:

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Written by Victoria Stern

April 19th, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Need to find a replication partner, or collaborator? There’s an online platform for that

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Christopher Chartier

Randy McCarthy

Do researchers need a new “Craigslist?” We were recently alerted to a new online platform called StudySwap by one of its creators, who said it was partially inspired by one of our posts. The platform creates an “online marketplace” that previous researchers have called for, connecting scientists with willing partners – such as a team looking for someone to replicate its results, and vice versa. As co-creators Christopher Chartier at Ashland University and Randy McCarthy at Northern Illinois University tell us, having a place where researchers can find each other more efficiently “is in everyone’s best interest.”

Retraction Watch: What inspired you to create StudySwap?

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Written by Alison McCook

April 19th, 2017 at 10:19 am

Journal flags paper about GMO foods over concerns about figures

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A journal has flagged a paper by a researcher who has questioned the safety of genetically modified organisms, after receiving concerns that there were issues with some images.

In the 2006 paper, researchers led by Federico Infascelli, an animal nutrition researcher at the University of Naples, tested the blood of rabbits fed genetically modified soybeans. Starting in November 2015, however, the journal animal fielded concerns that gels appeared manipulated, and a figure legend differed from that in a thesis associated with the research.

This isn’t the first notice issued for Infascelli’s controversial work, which has been under scrutiny in recent years, including by Italian senator and biologist Elena Cattaneo. Last year, he was formally reprimanded by the University of Naples for including manipulated data in three papers.

Although the University of Naples concluded the image manipulations were “not a breach of scientific integrity,” the journal has issued a lengthy expression of concern about the paper:

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Fraud by bone researcher takes down two meta-analyses, a clinical trial, and review

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The troubles continue for a bone researcher, who’s lost multiple papers in recent months due to problems ranging from data issues to including authors without their consent.

Now, journals have retracted two more papers by Yoshihiro Sato. And in a sign of the downstream effects that fraud can have, another journal has retracted two meta-analyses by other authors that cited his work.

Earlier this month, the journal Current Medical Research and Opinion retracted the two meta-analyses because they were based on recently retracted papers by Sato, affiliated with Mitate Hospital. The two new retractions of Sato’s papers are a review and a randomized controlled trial.

Sato was not an author on the meta-analyses published in 2008 and 2011; he was, however, first and lead author on all the retracted papers referenced in the notices. The notices state that the trio of authors on the meta-analyses:

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Prominent physicist loses four more papers for duplication

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A leading physicist in India has lost four more papers for duplication, after colleagues lodged a complaint against him.

According to the most recent retraction notices, issued by Applied Surface Science, the four papers duplicated several figures and portions of text from the authors’ previous works. Although the notices do not single out a responsible party, last year the Mumbai Mirror reported that first and corresponding Naba K. Sahoo had been accused of duplication by colleagues at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), part of Indian government’s Department of Atomic Energy.

(In a bizarre twist, Sahoo also made the news recently for getting into a fist fight with another BARC scientist.)

Sahoo received two retractions last year for duplication, sometimes inelegantly referred to as “self-plagiarism.” All six of his retractions affect papers published by Applied Surface Science between 2005 and 2007.

The first retraction notice explains that a 2006 paper lifted portions of text from an earlier paper by Sahoo: Read the rest of this entry »

Retraction notice cites misconduct investigation into endowed chair’s work; he threatens to sue

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Mark Jackson

A researcher has threatened to sue publisher Taylor & Francis for mentioning a misconduct investigation into his work in a retraction notice.

According to the notice, the publisher retracted a 2008 paper and a book chapter after learning about a misconduct investigation into the work of Mark Jackson, a department head and endowed chair, respectively, at universities in Kansas.

Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the nature of the misconduct investigation; Jackson told us he initiated the retractions after raising concerns his colleagues had violated intellectual property. He has since told the publisher he would take legal action if it didn’t remove the phrase noting that the retractions stem from a misconduct investigation into his work from the notice.

Here’s the notice, issued by Materials Science and Technology:

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Fired Pfizer cancer researcher loses final two of five papers pegged for retraction

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PLOS ONE has retracted the last of five papers by a former employee of Pfizer, who the company fired after determining she had duplicated data.

After its investigation, Pfizer asked journals to retract five papers co-authored by Min-Jean Yin. Last week, PLOS ONE retracted the final two remaining papers. Both notices cite image duplications; Yin contacted the journal about one paper, but did not comment on the other retraction.

Here’s the notice for “miR-221 Promotes Tumorigenesis in Human Triple Negative Breast Cancer Cells:”

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Weekend reads: Death of a cancer lab; women economists’ papers are more readable; self-correction grows

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The week at Retraction Watch featured a study of why researchers commit misconduct, and the story of former Northwestern scientist who sued the university for defamation. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

April 15th, 2017 at 9:30 am

Posted in weekend reads