Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Mol bio paper pulled by PLOS following investigation into figures

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Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 11.58.47 AMPLOS Biology has retracted a paper about the molecular details of β-catenin expression following an investigation by the first author’s institution in Italy.

The investigation, by the Istituto Nazionale per la Ricerca sul Cancro, found that there were multiple “figure anomalies.” According to the note:

An explanation of inadvertent error was given for some of the issues identified, while for two issues, a satisfactory explanation could not be provided.

First author Roberto Gherzi says none of his co-authors helped prepare the figures. The authors maintain that the conclusions are unaffected, but that assurance wasn’t enough for the journal. Here’s more from the lengthy retraction note, which provides some backstory on the “serious concerns” regarding the data:

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MD Anderson researcher Aggarwal up to six corrections

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cover (2)A highly cited cancer researcher at MD Anderson has notched three major corrections, all associated with problems in figures. One note cites “human error” as the cause.

Bharat Aggarwal is the last author on all three papers. He is now up to six corrections, two unexplained withdrawals, and two Expressions of Concern. He’s also threatened to sue us in the past, and has told us that his institution has been looking into his work.

Only one note specifies that the correction does not affect the paper’s conclusions.

First up: “Inhibition of growth and survival of human head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cells by curcumin via modulation of nuclear factor-κB signaling,” published in the International Journal of Cancer and cited 168 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The issues span two figures, according to the erratum note:

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Case report on cyst surgery sliced by journal for plagiarism

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Contemporary Clinical DentistryA case report that detailed the removal of a cyst from the side of a young woman’s face has been retracted for plagiarizing text from a similar case report published two years earlier.

Contemporary Clinical Dentistry posted the notice on July 31. Parts of the 2014 report were “directly copied” from a report published in 2012 by the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial PathologyNeither of the reports share authors in common.

The notice reads:

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Heart researcher gets 3rd retraction for copying images of rat hearts

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1-s2.0-S0014299914X00233-cov150hWhen two papers include the same images of rat hearts, one of those papers gets retracted.

The papers share a corresponding author, Zhi-Qing Zhao of Mercer University School of Medicine in Savannah, Georgia. This marks his third retraction; we reported on two others earlier this year.

The papers examine the effect of curcumin, which has antinflammatory properties (in addition to giving the spice turmeric its yellow color). The retracted paper, “Dual ACE-inhibition and angiotensin II AT1 receptor antagonism with curcumin attenuate maladaptive cardiac repair and improve ventricular systolic function after myocardial infarctionin rat heart,” was published in the January 5, 2015 issue of the European Journal of Pharmacology, and has zero citations, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. It shares multiple figures with another 2012 paper, “Curcumin promotes cardiac repair and ameliorates cardiac dysfunction following myocardial infarction,” published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, which has not been retracted. The BJP paper has been cited 18 times.

Here’s the retraction note for the EJP paper:

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Editors weren’t “unable to verify reviewer identities” — reviewers just weren’t qualified

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We can’t resist flagging some misleading language in a retraction note for a 2015 paper on the inner workings of an amoeba pathogen.

The note for “The Charms of the CHRM Receptors: Apoptotic and Amoebicidal effects of Dicyclomine on Acanthamoeba castellanii” is short, so we’re going to give it to you up front:

This accepted manuscript has been retracted because the journal is unable to verify reviewer identities.

Sounds like another case of faked emails to generate fake peer reviews, right? But that’s not what happened to this paper, according to the editor in chief of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Louis B. Rice, a professor at Brown University:

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“Carelessness” forces Science to correct paper about immune booster

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Science is fixing images in a paper published online in April that discovered an immune-boosting protein, after the authors mistakenly mixed up similar-looking Western blots.

The paper, which received some press coverage, identified a protein that helped the immune system fight off cancers and infections. Philip Ashton-Rickardt, a scientist at Imperial College London who led the study, told the The Telegraph:

This is exciting because we have found a completely different way to use the immune system to fight cancer.

The editor in chief of Science, Marcia McNutt, told us that the journal contacted the authors once it learned of “irregularities” in some of the figures, which did not affect the conclusions of the paper:

Making error detection easier – and more automated: A guest post from the co-developer of “statcheck”

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Michèle B. Nuijten

Michèle B. Nuijten

We’re pleased to present a guest post from Michèle B. Nuijten, a PhD student at Tilburg University who helped develop a program called “statcheck,” which automatically spots statistical mistakes in psychology papers, making it significantly easier to find flaws. Nuijten writes about how such a program came about, and its implications for other fields.

Readers of Retraction Watch know that the literature contains way too many errors – to a great extent, as some research suggests, in my field of psychology. And there is evidence that problem is only likely to get worse.

To reliably investigate these claims, we wanted to study reporting inconsistencies at a large scale. However, extracting statistical results from papers and recalculating the p-values is not only very tedious, it also takes a LOT of time.

So we created a program known as “statcheck” to do the checking for us, by automatically extracting statistics from papers and recalculating p-values. Unfortunately, we recently found that our suspicions were correct: Half of the papers in psychology contain at least one statistical reporting inconsistency, and one in eight papers contain an inconsistency that might have affected the statistical conclusion.

The origins of statcheck began in 2011, Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Alison McCook

November 17th, 2015 at 9:30 am

Plagiarism detected in two papers on improving detection of cancer by mammograms

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A group of computer scientists has a pair of retractions for duplicating “substantial parts” of other articles written by different authors. Both papers, published in Neural Computing and Applications, are on ways to screen for breast cancer more effectively.

According to the abstract of  “An improved data mining technique for classification and detection of breast cancer from mammograms,” computers make the process of identifying cancer in lesions detected by mammograms faster and more accurate:

Although general rules for the differentiation between benign and malignant breast lesion exist, only 15–30% of masses referred for surgical biopsy are actually malignant. Physician experience of detecting breast cancer can be assisted by using some computerized feature extraction and classification algorithms. Computer-aided classification system was used to help in diagnosing abnormalities faster than traditional screening program without the drawback attribute to human factors.

The article has been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.  The retraction note reveals where “substantial parts” of the article came from:

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Chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV researcher scheduled to head to court today, alleging conspiracy

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Judy Mikovits

Judy Mikovits

Chronic fatigue syndrome researcher Judy Mikovits was scheduled to head is heading to court today, where a California judge will would decide whether or not to dismiss her lawsuit against fourteen people and two Nevada corporations.

(Note: This story has been updated. See below.)

Among the defendants: the Whittemore Peterson Institute  in Reno, Nevada where Mikovits used to work; the institute’s cofounders, Annette and Harvey Whittemore; a colleague with whom she shares a retracted Science paper; and several members of California and Nevada law enforcement.

The complaint does not check the box next to “Money Demanded in Complaint”, but also lists $750,000 in the associated field:

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In 2006, Mikovits began working for the Whittmores at the WPI; her job was to search for a biological cause of chronic fatigue, a vexing, mysterious disease afflicting their daughter. Part of her research focused on a potential link between chronic fatigue syndrome and a virus known as XMRV. But after others — and Mikovits herself — couldn’t replicate results published in Science and the paper was retracted, she was fired from her position in 2011. Mikovits alleges that Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Shannon Palus

November 16th, 2015 at 11:45 am

Nutritionist group pulls position statement on vegetarian diets for “inaccuracies and omissions”

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Screen Shot 2015-10-16 at 11.57.38 AMWhat are the specific health benefits to skipping out on meat? We’re not totally sure, after the largest organization for nutrition professionals pulled its 2015 position statement on this issue only weeks after publishing it in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The “Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets” was removed earlier this year for “inaccuracies and omissions critical to the paper” — and the first author wasn’t told what they were. A “major revision” is forthcoming.

Here’s the removal note from the journal for the 2015 version:

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