Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Are rich people meaner? While trying to find out, two teams find errors in each other’s work

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Is having money linked to bad behavior?

A high profile paper published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) set out to answer that question — and found that yes, the more money people have, the more likely they are to lie, cheat, and steal. And the greedier they are, the worse they behave. But when a more recent paper tried to replicate some of those findings, it couldn’t.

It turns out, both the original paper and the paper that tried to replicate it contained errors. Although neither appear to affect the main conclusions, the authors of the 2016 replication recently issued a correction; the error in the 2012 paper was initially deemed too insignificant to correct, but the journal has decided to revisit the idea of issuing a correction.

A representative of PNAS told us that the replication paper — and reporting by Retraction Watch — is the reason why: Read the rest of this entry »

An accomplished philosopher invented a pseudonym. Why?

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Amélie Rorty

In 1980, Leila Tov-Ruach published a book chapter in which she thanked the editor of the book, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, “for the hospitality that made the writing of this paper possible.”

Normally, such an acknowledgement wouldn’t raise eyebrows. But, the trouble is, Tov-Ruach and Rorty are the same person:  Leila Tov-Ruach is a pseudonym for Rorty, an accomplished philosopher. The University of California Press (UC Press) officially outed Rorty as Leila Tov-Ruach when it issued corrections for two chapters she published decades ago under the pseudonym (1, 2).

The corrections explain the author of the chapters is Rorty, who also edited the two books in which the chapters appear. Although Rorty didn’t note in the original versions of the books that she is Tov-Ruach, she has not tried to hide her pseudonym either.  She has acknowledged she is Tov-Ruach in her CV, and at least some philosophers know about the pseudonym (1, 2).

Why would a philosopher—who has an impressive publishing record that spans 50 years and, at 85 years old, is still a lecturer at Harvard—choose to write under a fake name?

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Written by Victoria Stern

October 13th, 2017 at 8:15 am

Swedish prosecutor won’t pursue criminal case against Macchiarini

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Paolo Macchiarini

A Swedish prosecutor has announced she won’t continue investigating a former star surgeon who has since fallen from grace.

Paolo Macchiarini made a name for himself by transplanting synthetic tracheas. After multiple patients died, however, allegations against the researcher have continued to swirl. He was dismissed from the Karolinska Institutet last year, after it reopened its misconduct investigation. The Swedish prosecutor was investigating Macchiarini’s role in the deaths of three out of four patients he operated on five times between 2011-2013.

Although the prosecution concluded that most of the operations proceeded “negligently,” it could not conclude Macchiarini was criminally responsible.

According to the public prosecutor Jennie Nordin:

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Written by Alison McCook

October 12th, 2017 at 10:55 am

“The results are essentially meaningless:” Typos, missing variables found throughout physics paper

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A physics journal has retracted a 2014 paper after a reader discovered a slew of errors.

The paper, published in the Journal of Thermophysics and Heat Transfer, explored how the properties of nanofluidsfluids that contain nanoparticles—change as the fluid moves through different materials.  

According to the editor-in-chief, Greg Naterer, an outside expertAsterios Pantokratoras, based at Democritus University of Thrace in Greececontacted the journal in May 2017 after discovering “errors with symbols in equations and figures.” The journal investigated the concerns and reached out to the paper’s corresponding author V. Ramachandra Prasad at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science in India for a response; after several rounds of comments from Pantokratoras and Prasad, the journal concluded that the paper should be retracted.

Naterer explained: Read the rest of this entry »

Dispute over author order torpedoes paper on syndrome linked to autism

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At least one disgruntled co-author has triggered the retraction of a paper presenting a novel approach to treating a rare, genetically inherited condition.

The paper concerned research on Fragile X syndrome (FXS), characterized by both intellectual and physical abnormalities, which is linked autism. A compound that passed through phase 2 clinical trials in October 2015 appeared to partially treat FXS in mice in the study, published earlier this year.

The journal’s notice says the paper was retracted over a dispute among authors about the order in which they are listed on the paper: Read the rest of this entry »

A journal printed a sharp critique of a paper it had published. If only it had checked with the authors first.

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In 2016, researchers published a paper showing that an RNA molecule may be overactive in breast tumor tissue. But after reading the paper, three biologists believed the data supported the opposite conclusion.

What happened after that is a tale of misunderstandings and unnecessarily bruised feelings. We’ve seen plenty of cases where researchers ignore criticism, which at first glance seemed to be the case here. But upon closer inspection, it wasn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Victoria Stern

October 11th, 2017 at 8:05 am

Journal issues note of concern, tips off university’s research integrity office

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A journal has published an expression of concern (EoC) for a paper on cancer genetics in mice, over a concern about data in some gel panels.

The EoC for “Suppression of intestinal tumorigenesis in Apc mutant mice upon Musashi-1 deletion,” appeared Sept. 21 in Journal of Cell Science (JCS).

With the notice, the journal says:

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Board member resigns from journal over handling of paper accused of plagiarism

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A biologist is crying foul at a journal’s decision to correct (and not retract) a paper he claims plagiarized his work — and one of his colleagues has resigned from the journal’s editorial board as a result.

The 2016 paper, published by Scientific Reports, is an application of a previously published algorithm designed to better identify regulatory sequences in DNA. The three authors, based at the Shenzhen campus of the Harbin Institute of Technology, used the technique to identify recombination spots in DNA. They called it SVM-gkm.

On April 2, Michael Beer of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore notified the editors of Scientific Reports that he believed the paper had plagiarized his work. Despite Beer’s efforts, the journal ultimately decided to issue a correction notice, which cites “errors” and the authors’ failure to credit Beer’s work. That isn’t good enough for Beer — nor one of his colleagues at Johns Hopkins, who resigned from the journal’s editorial board saying “the recent affair with Mike Beer’s work being plagiarized did not impress me.

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“Credible threats of personal violence” against editor prompt withdrawal of colonialism paper

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A journal has withdrawn an essay that called for a return to colonialism after the editor received alleged threats tied to the article.

Soon after Third World Quarterly published the controversial essay, readers began to object. When the journal defended its decision, 15 editorial board members resigned in response. More than 10,000 people signed a petition to have it retracted. On September 26, the publisher posted a statement — including a detailed timeline of the paper’s peer review process — and said the the author had requested to withdraw the article. However, in the statement, the publisher said that “peer-reviewed research articles cannot simply be withdrawn but must have grounds for retraction.”

The journal has since changed its position, and withdrawn the paper entirely from its site, posting this notice in its place:

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Journal to retract paper called “anti-vaccine pseudoscience”

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A journal is planning to retract a paper that purported to link a component of vaccines to autism in mice.

The paper, about the effects of aluminum adjuvants in vaccines on the immune response in the brains of mice, is the second retraction for co-authors Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, of the University of British Columbia. The journal’s editor told us he and the authors are jointly retracting the paper. 

Just over a month old, the paper has already received plenty of criticism. Numerous commenters on PubPeer have allegedly identified image duplications and other problems with the paper. One commenter described “clear and deliberate” removal of control results in the paper, while others suggested gel bands were duplicated within the paper, and appear similar to those from another paper published in 2014 by Shaw and Tomljenovic. In a blog post, David Gorski, a professor and surgeon at Wayne State University, called the paper “antivaccine pseudoscience.”

Shaw, the paper’s last author, told us that his lab became aware of the PubPeer discussion a few weeks after publication:  Read the rest of this entry »