Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Nature paper adds non-reproducibility to its list of woes

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Despite taking some serious hits, a 2006 letter in Nature isn’t going anywhere.

Years ago, a university committee determined that two figures in the letter had been falsified. The journal chose to correct the paper, rather than retract it — and then, the next year, published a correction of that correction due to “an error in the production process.” To round it out, in June of last year, Nature published a rebuttal from a separate research group, who had failed to replicate the letter’s results.

Still, the first author told us there are no plans to retract the paper, since the follow up experiments published in the corrections confirmed the paper’s conclusions.

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Written by Cat Ferguson

March 21st, 2017 at 9:30 am

What leads to bias in the scientific literature? New study tries to answer

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By now, most of our readers are aware that some fields of science have a reproducibility problem. Part of the problem, some argue, is the publishing community’s bias toward dramatic findings — namely, studies that show something has an effect on something else are more likely to be published than studies that don’t.

Many have argued that scientists publish such data because that’s what is rewarded — by journals and, indirectly, by funders and employers, who judge a scientist based on his or her publication record. But a new meta-analysis in PNAS is saying it’s a bit more complicated than that.

In a paper released today, researchers led by Daniele Fanelli and John Ioannidis — both at Stanford University — suggest that the so-called “pressure-to-publish” does not appear to bias studies toward larger so-called “effect sizes.” Instead, the researchers argue that other factors were a bigger source of bias than the pressure-to-publish, namely the use of small sample sizes (which could contain a skewed sample that shows stronger effects), and relegating studies with smaller effects to the “gray literature,” such as conference proceedings, PhD theses, and other less publicized formats.

However, Ferric Fang of the University of Washington — who did not participate in the study — approached the findings with some caution:

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Written by Alison McCook

March 20th, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Scientist who sued university earns two more retractions, bringing total to five

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A scientist who sued his employer for millions of dollars has earned two more retractions, for papers that had already been flagged by the journal.

By our count, Rakesh Kumar now has five retractions and multiple corrections.

Kumar sued his employer, George Washington University, for $8 million, alleging emotional distress when they put him on leave from his position as department chair following a finding of misconduct. That suit was settled last year, for undisclosed terms.

The two newest retractions in the Journal of Biological Chemistry — which tagged the papers with Expressions of Concern last year — both state that, according to Kumar, the problematic figures were assembled by “specific co-authors” — unnamed — in his lab. Here’s the first notice:

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Japan, Taiwan taking closer look at fraud — and how to stop it

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Two countries have recently announced plans to learn more about research misconduct, with the goal of preventing it from happening in the first place.

In Japan, the effort takes the form of a joint study group among six universities, which will interview researchers who have engaged in misconduct to discover patterns and common factors for their wrongdoing. In Taiwan, the government recently announced plans to establish an Office of Research Integrity, based on the version in the U.S., to investigate alleged cases of misconduct.

Here’s more about the new Taiwan office, from the Taipei Times:

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Written by Alison McCook

March 20th, 2017 at 9:30 am

Weekend reads: Investigations need sunlight; should we name fraudster names?; how to kill predatory journals

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The week at Retraction Watch featured a lawsuit threat following criticism of a popular education program, and the new editor of PLOS ONE’s explanation of why submissions are down. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ivan Oransky

March 18th, 2017 at 9:30 am

Posted in weekend reads

Physics paper’s results off by factor of 100

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Researchers from China have retracted a physics paper after realizing an error led them to report results that were nearly 100 times too large.

What’s more, the authors omitted key findings that would enable others to reproduce their experiments.

According to the notice, the authors used a value to calculate a feature of electrons—called mobility—that “was approximately 100 times too small,” which led to results that were “100 times too large.” The notice also details several gaps in the presentation of experimental results, which preclude others from duplicating the experiments.

Here’s the retraction notice for “Bulk- and layer-heterojunction phototransistors based on poly[2-methoxy-5-(2′-ethylhexyloxy-p-phenylenevinylene)] and PbS quantum dot hybrids:” Read the rest of this entry »

Two more retractions for stem cell researcher appealing her dismissal

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Susana Gonzalez

Susana Gonzalez, a rising star in stem cell research, has had a rough year.

In addition to being fired from her former research institute (which she is now appealing), one of her grants (totaling nearly 2 million Euros) was suspended. Most recently, she has received two new retractions in Nature Communications over figure duplications and missing raw data. By our count, she has a total of three retractions.

Both of the new notices say the papers contained figures duplicated in other papers by Gonzalez, and neither includes Gonzalez among the list of co-authors who agreed to the retraction.

Gonzalez was dismissed from her position at the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Spain last February over allegations of misconduct. According to the head of basic research at CNIC, Gonzalez is still embroiled in a legal battle with the Center over her dismissal. Vicente Andrés could not go into detail because of the ongoing litigation, but he told us: Read the rest of this entry »

Why don’t the raw data match what was reported in a chemistry paper?

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Chemistry researchers in China have retracted their 2016 paper after reporting that the raw data did not match what they presented in the article.

The authors were attempting to develop a method to produce large amounts of a high-quality two-dimensional form of antimonene, a prized crystal structure that has been notoriously difficult to synthesize reliably.

They were successful, according to the paper, achieving “a large quantity of few-layer antimonene” and demonstrating its “exact atomical structure” and properties.

But they may have spoken too soon. Read the rest of this entry »

Prominent NIH researcher up to a dozen retractions

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Stanley Rapoport. Source: NIH

Neuroscientist Stanley Rapoport hasn’t had much luck with his co-authors.

Recently, we’ve reported on multiple retractions of papers co-authored by Rapoport after three different first authors were found to have committed misconduct. Now, the fallout from one of those cases had led to four more retractions, bringing Rapoport’s total to 12.

The latest batch of retractions stem from the actions of Jagadeesh Rao.

Here’s the first notice, issued by Psychopharmacology:

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After lawsuit threat, journal forces author to heavily revise education paper

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Under threat of a lawsuit, an education journal changed its mind about publishing a paper that it had already accepted after peer review.

Last summer, Education Policy Analysis Archives, published by the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, informed San Francisco State University professor Stanley Pogrow that the journal would be publishing his paper criticizing a widely used reform intervention for schools in poor districts called Success For All.

According to Success For All‘s website, the program is currently used in more than 1,000 schools in 48 states and received just over $10.5 million in grant funding in 2015. In 2010, the program was one of four recipients of the U.S. Department of Education’s $50 million Investing in Innovation Scale‑up grant.

Yet when Success For All’s co-developer, Robert Slavin at Johns Hopkins University, read a pre-publication draft of the paper, he threatened the journal with legal action if they published it. According to Slavin, the manuscript contained “libelous” and “defamatory” statements.

Subsequently, ASU declined to publish the accepted paper, and instead told Pogrow they would only publish a revised piece on the methodology used to evaluate which school interventions are effective — and thus should receive public funds. The revised paper does not directly mention Success For All or Slavin in the text (although it cites past articles by Pogrow criticizing the program). The revision, which Pogrow agreed to, “gutted the article,” he told us.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Megan Scudellari

March 15th, 2017 at 2:00 pm