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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

The Retraction Watch FAQ, including comments policy

with 39 comments

We tend to get certain questions over and over, so we figured we’d gather the answers in one place. We’ll add to this list as other common questions come up. You may also find it useful to read our first post, “Why write a blog about retractions?”

Why do you guys do this?

Good question. This interview transcript should provide some answers, as should our first post.

Why was my comment deleted or edited?

We are huge fans of Retraction Watch commenters. They broaden our posts, send us tips, and correct us when we get things wrong. Without them, the site would be a shadow of itself. However, we have recently found ourselves — this update is from January 2013 — having to edit ad hominem attacks out of comments, unapprove other comments, and contact some commenters to remind them of what’s appropriate.

It may not be clear to those who feel the need to resort to such personal attacks that they destroy the discourse that we and others have worked so hard to build on Retraction Watch, but it is abundantly clear to us and many others. The same goes for unfounded allegations and unverified facts.

We will not tolerate these sorts of attacks, and will simply edit or delete comments that contain them. Until now, we have made an attempt to contact the commenters who left them, as long as they provided real email addresses, but given the volume, we will no longer be able to do that. If you have a question about why your comment was edited or removed, please use the email addresses provided in our About pages to contact us.

There’s a really important retraction in my field from January 2010. I can’t believe you guys haven’t covered it!

We launched Retraction Watch in August 2010, and although we didn’t predict this, it’s been a struggle to even keep up with retractions as they happen. While we occasionally dip into history in our “Best Of” series, realistically we don’t want to fall even further behind. If we ever have the resources to grow the site, this will be one of our priorities.

Why are so many of the retractions you cover from the life sciences?

There are a number of reasons for this. The two most important are that 1) we’re both medical reporters in our day jobs, so our sources and knowledge base are both deeper in the life sciences and 2) there are more papers published in the life sciences than in other areas. We’d love your help beefing up our physical sciences section, so keep those tips coming.

Everyone agrees that this paper has to be retracted. Why haven’t you covered it?

Just like retractions from the past, this is a resource issue. We wholeheartedly agree it’s important to check out tips — anonymous or not — about potentially dodgy papers. But doing that right would require a much larger team, so we’ve decided that publicizing retractions that do happen — and finding out why papers were retracted, not always a simple task — was a better use of our efforts.

Is there a reliable database of retractions?

No. There are ways to search Medline and the Web of Science for retractions, but there’s no single database. We’ve been approached about creating one, and would love to take on that project, building on the categorization that we already offer in our right-hand column. We even have some ideas about how it could pay for itself. But we’d need some help — financial and technological. So if you can offer resources, please get in touch: ivan-oransky [at] erols.com.

How can I support your work?

Thanks for asking! We appreciate every reader and commenter, and that’s really enough for us. But if you’re so inclined, please send tips to ivan-oransky [at] erols.com and adam.marcus1 [at] gmail.com. And if you’re even more inclined, have a look at the Retraction Watch Store. (We had a donation button for a while, but quickly realized it was creating conflicts of interest, as much as we appreciated our donors whose funding we had to return.) And if you’re from a non-profit foundation or university and are really inclined, send us an email.

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Written by Ivan Oransky

November 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm

39 Responses

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  1. Hello Sir,
    I got an email from a friend who is getting pressure to help “rephrase to avoid the similiarity” between a paper his old lab wants to publish. Apparently, the lab has submitted the manuscript and the editor claimed that it was remarkably similar to a previously published paper from the same group. Now he is pressuring my friend to change it (he highlighted all the text in blue that he wanted to change). I am copying to you the email exchange because it raises serious and serious concerns. I am withholding my name out of fear of retribution, but I would like to get this out to you. Can you please advise as to what to do and if this is something that we in academia should be worried about. Again, please keep me anonymous as I know the person being pressured to do this. (Though it seems he is very willing and happy to do this). I fear for humanity.
    Respectfully yours,
    Anonymous

    From: REDACTED
    Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 3:16 PM
    To: REDACTED
    Cc: REDACTED
    Subject: RE: Need your help!

    Hi REDACTED,

    Happy Chinese New Year!

    Yes, I will be gald to help you remove the similarities of your papers.

    I have a deadline of my own at school this Friday. I can start reviewing the highlighted corrections and then email you back suggestions by Friday night or Saturday afternoon.

    Hi REDACTED,

    I might be visiitng Gainesville again the following weekend. Let me know if Dr. Liu will be available during the next couple of weeks.

    REDACTED

    ——————————————————————————–

    From: REDACTED [REDACTED@gmail.com]
    Sent: Monday, January 30, 2012 11:12 PM
    To: REDACTED
    Cc: REDACTED
    Subject: Need your help!

    REDACTED,

    Havent talked to you for a while, hope everything is going well of you.
    I attached a review paper that I finished at UF, the paper was under peer review and the editor sent back the comments to us. They may use a kind of software to check the similarity between it and the previous published paper, they found several similarities between it and our previous published paper. I marked all the similarities in ‘BLUE’, would you please help me to rephrase them to avoid the similarity?

    The edior required to send back before Feb 5th, please email me back by Feb 5.
    Many thanks!

    Kind regards,
    REDACTED

    Anonymous

    February 1, 2012 at 3:58 pm

  2. Why is it that most of the retractions seem to be from non-American researchers?

    Han

    April 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    • Cause most of the world is non-American?

      stormen_per

      May 30, 2012 at 11:25 am

  3. Hi Ivan. Here’s one for you to consider: the “Australian Paradox” is an obvious candidate for retraction. Reliable nutrition information is critical in the fight against obesity and diabetes (“diabesity”). In Australia, the contribution of excess sugar consumption to obesity has been exonerated by high-profile but over-confident academics/scientists with very strong links to the sugar industry and other sugar sellers.

    No surprise I guess, but what’s interesting is that this deeply flawed paper with its recklessly false conclusion – “an inverse relationship” between sugar consumption and obesity, the Australian Paradox! – was published in a supposedly peer-reviewed science journal. Two respected scientists have agreed publicly that the authors’ conclusion belies the readily available facts.

    I’m arguing for the shoddy paper’s retraction by the authors, the journal Nutrients and/or the University of Sydney. It’s all documented at http://www.australianparadox.com/ and http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/research-causes-stir-over-sugars-role-in-obesity-20120330-1w3e5.html#ixzz20FXohd4R .

    Nothing has happened since March except that the authors have pretended their paper is fine. It isn’t. And it’s simply unreasonable to allow the false conclusion – “an inverse relationship” between sugar consumption and obesity, the Australian Paradox! – to sit uncorrected in a journal, misinforming scientists across the world via the Internet many months after the real facts have become clear.

    Because of the unreasonable delay in correcting the scientific record, one of the questions I’m now asking is when does an inadvertent series of major errors deliberately left uncorrected become an academic and scientific hoax? Any thoughts, anyone?

  4. see what the TPDS editor said:
    “Hi,

    Thank you for bringing this matter up.
    This will be formally investigated as per procedure (by an ad hoc committee of TPDS editors).
    I in fact observed editorial misconduct of Boukerche and removed him from editorial board soon after taking over TPDS in January 2010. There is one more paper by El-Khatib also accepted by AB without due review process.
    Regards,
    Ivan Stojmenovic.

    andy

    September 12, 2012 at 4:57 pm

  5. What about “spun” papers? In a 2008 NEJM paper on antidepressants, our group presented data on 11 clinical trials that were negative according to the FDA but positive in the corresponding journal article. This was because primary outcomes, as specified a priori in the protocol, either disappeared or were downplayed, and secondary outcomes or post hoc findings were presented as the main results. This phenomenon has been called HARKing (“hypothesizing after the results are known”). Should such spun papers, which remain part of the public record, be retracted, or should corrected versions be published?

    Erick Turner, M.D.

    October 2, 2012 at 5:36 pm

  6. Dr Turner, I reckon any such unreasonable efforts should be ridiculed in public commentary by competent people in the space who can see clearly the deception being attempted. The drivers of deliberate deception – including the authors and the offending journals – should be hounded/disrespected by serious people at every opportunity. And the papers corrected or retracted depending on the hard facts.

  7. If people would like to warn you of a retraction, how would they go about it? For example, just saw this retraction notice for image duplication in Cell:

    http://www.cell.com/fulltext/S0092-8674(12)01112-9

    Pedro

    October 14, 2012 at 7:37 am

  8. Apologies, the 2nd link shoud be

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jbmr.1705/pdf

    In addition:
    In the plosone paper 2012

    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035830

    Fig 8a. panels a and c: Two isotype controls for 2 antibodies against two different receptors (R1 and R2) with identical FACS traces (thin lines).
    Simply impossible.
    Where did the thick line overlays come from?

    Stewart

    October 28, 2012 at 5:34 am

  9. Here is an example of a Science result that is mostly wrong. The main claim made here, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/729 , spun in the popular science media as a “breakthrough” was found to be incorrect. This is the proof of the correction: http://arxiv.org/abs/1110.2647 which was also published in Science here: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6064/38.2 . Since neither the idea is correct, nor the device new, it is really a fit case for a retraction. Instead, it (somehow) survived with this sorry postscript: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6064/38.3

    Anon Tipper

    November 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm

  10. My name is Ari Ferreira de Abreu. I am a Professor of Accounting at the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil.
    I found seven theses written by professors of the Accounting Department at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (Brazil) with plagiarism.
    There are several cases followed copied pages (4-6). But the university refuses to acknowledge the problem to avoid having to search for plagiarism of other teachers. Recognition of the problem can cause the reduction of financial resources and damage the image of the University.
    The University appointed a lawyer paid with tax money to defend plagiarists. As the University is located in a small town and the greatest plagiarists is the son of a retired judge, the case was closed with no solution.
    The lawyer claimed the University did not have a problem because there was “little plagiarism” (only 14% of the thesis) that “did not affect the outcome.”
    Thus, as there are no problems, I am “teaching” people to use these “modern research techniques” advocated by counsel for the University.
    I’m posting the theses on my blog http://naofoiplagio.blogspot.com.br/. I’m putting this blog all theses commented to be known by all. I wonder if you can help me with the release of this blog.
    grateful
    Ari Ferreira de Abreu

    Ari Ferreira de Abreu

    December 3, 2012 at 9:17 pm

  11. The National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (Conselho nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico – CNPq) has established a guideline that allows plagiarism. At link: http://memoria.cnpq.br/normas/lei_po_085_11.htm is presented the following definition of plagiarism:
    “Plagiarism: is the presentation, as if it were his own, results or conclusions previously obtained by another author, as well as complete texts or substantial part outside of texts without care detailed in the Guidelines.”
    According to CNPQ oo plagiarism is allowed provided that “small” and without using results from other researchers.

    Ari Ferreira de Abreu

    December 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm

  12. A couple of minor thoughts/suggestions about RW (which I read every day without fail).

    1. I notice you rarely include the actual citation to the article being retracted. Is there a reason for this? I’d think it might be important to include a full citation just to be sure it shows up when someone does a Google search which includes more than the author and title.

    2. One of the nice features some internet media have is a button on each comment which just lets the reader say “me too,” “well said,” or whatever. It probably reduces the amount of duplicative comments. More important, since RW is now a big deal (a position it has well and truly earned), the blog gets a lot of feedback. An upvote system helps readers without a lot of time quickly identify the comments which others found interesting. Sure, this feature gets abused occasionally, but it’s usually obvious when that happens.

    Thanks and keep it up.

    Toby White

    February 5, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    • Hi Toby, thanks for reading and for the suggestions.

      There’s no particular reason we don’t include the entire citation; as with many things it’s just a resource issue. It often takes a few extra steps to find that, thanks to the way some retractions are presented. But we do always link to the notice, which gives people something to fine. Point taken about Google searches, although from experience I think that Google will find the right reference if you give it enough material. So we’ll consider this

      Hadn’t thought about the thumbs up/thumbs down function on comments, but I just turned it on, so let’s see what happens.

      ivanoransky

      February 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    • Yuk…really don’t like the thumbs up/thumbs down! This is quite a classy site with a well-informed set of commenters that provide a very wide set of intelligent viewpoints (even mine on occasion!). Not sure why there’s a need for an indication of comment popularity – it’s not like the is the Daily Mail or the Sun where people have to be told what they’re supposed to think or like.

      I don’t have a problem with some repetitive comments; mostly these are stated with a personal perspective, and it’s not as if there are that many comments on most threads anyway.I’d much rather have someone say specifically that they agree with my comment (or not) than to have some sort of voting (which is open to rigging if on contentious issues if other blogs are anything to go by).

      ….a definite “thumbs down” to that idea from me…

      chris

      February 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  13. Ivan, Great blog but…

    As I’ve been reading here more, I’m seeing a fair number of people posting unrelated articles in the comments. I sometimes chase down these articles trying to see whether they are from the same group or same authors, and often it’s something totally unrelated to the main topic. I wonder if you would consider posting “open threads” from time to time, and encourage people to post their unrelated finds there for discussion.

    StrongDreams

    February 13, 2013 at 12:54 pm

  14. Just stumbled across two papers, which seem pretty much identical:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21772586

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19784523

    They even use same abstract…go figure…

    Arcturus

    February 28, 2013 at 11:31 am

    • I can see one of them is now being retracted, check on links. Yet, it seems that the earliest one is being retracted, which is puzzling as the official duplicate that ought to be retracted should be the most recent one? Maybe RW will comment on those in the near future.

      And what about these two studies below from same authors:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17607501

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19127455

      Do I smell salami? Sorry, I do not know of the area to say, but maybe they deserved a look.

      CR

      October 2, 2013 at 6:59 pm

  15. My name is Ari Ferreira de Abreu, I am a professor at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (or Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, acronym UFSC) in Brazil. In 2012 I published an article named “Um levantamento de casos de plágio em um curso de Ciências Contábeis” (or Study of Plagiarism cases in an Accounting course) that was presented at the VII Ibero-American Congress of University Teaching.
    In that publication, I have concluded that 25 out of the 69 sample essays of undergraduate students contained plagiarism. Nevertheless, inspecting the PhD thesis of professors of the Accounting course, I have found plagiarism in 7 of them. Should my conclusions have been proved correct, irregular employments and undue wage benefits may have occurred as a consequence. Thus, the outputs of my analysis were sent to both Brazilian authorities and UFSC for further scrutiny.
    The PhD thesis where the major quantity of plagiarism was identified – 14% of copied texts from not-mentioned sources according to my study – was authored by Mr. Ferreira and included four-consecutive pages as well as copies of essays authored by his students. By analyzing this particular case, UFSC representatives recognized the existence of no more than a few extracts copied, and that collectively they did not impact the conclusions; moreover, they also expressed that the existence of a small amount of short extracts should not indicate plagiarism issues. The Brazilian Federal Police endorsed UFSC’s position and thus concluded for the non-existence of plagiarism.
    Later on, four articles authored by Mr. Borba were then examined. Copies of his earlier articles were found in 3 of them; the fourth included copies of third parties’ texts – and in all cases sources were not mentioned. Since Mr. Borba is paid a financial aid due to his productivity, those articles were submitted to Brazilian authorities. The government agent responsible for the researcher’s allowance – National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (or Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico, acronym CNPQ) – found no plagiarism issues.
    In short, the Brazilian authorities and UFSC representatives jointly concluded on the absence of issues in all cases sent to their evaluation. They also shared the understanding that the mentioned professors were hired and are paid additional financial aids due to their PhD degrees, in a perfect regular situation.
    Consequently, I conclude that my work carries a serious inaccuracy, and for this reason I am publicly apologizing. The inaccuracy is related to the use of the word “plagiarism”. The fact is that “non-quoted coincidences” are accepted by UFSC and in Brazil, as long as they do not affect the conclusions and are no longer than short extracts. Thus, in my published article the term “plagiarism” shall be replaced by the expression “not-mentioned coincidences”.
    You will find hereunder links for further reading:
    My original paper (as published in 2012)

    https://mega.co.nz/#!rMBDTSSY!fPlwnCqggAN0Pgs76_CRbC3rF4wy3I1zLokaE416xw4

    Monographs and thesis of students and professors mentioned in my paper

    https://mega.co.nz/#!rVIiHawL!M7LUngMKIXx6Pg9hcuLWaEdV0F4iFcnxIt_OUwIT7o0

    • Dear Dr Ari, I admire your work and guts. I am afraid most of Brazilian academia is like Brazilian government. This should be enough to be understood by any Brazilian…

      CR

      October 2, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      • Brazilian Government: where everything just get lost in time and space. Excellent work by Dr. Ari, but this flawless qualification of “plagiarism” given by the Brazilian agencies and academy is rather mediocre. It is YES or NO. There is non minor plagiarism… We have a long way to be paved with some consistency and truth to go trough the gates of science in Terra BraZilis.

        DEUS ex MACHINA

        October 3, 2013 at 4:54 am

  16. My question is about western blot.. I am MSc student from Srilanka. I am trying to repeat one of the western blot done for protein of interest in my lab. It has been done in the past by my senior post doc. I am trying to repeat the same experiments, but I am not getting the same result. I was wondering, how detect the fault in the previous experiment. If some one has loaded extra protein sample or less protein sample deliberately to show up regulation or down regulation of protein, how do you detect such errors. Off course, if the loading control are not from stripped blot, how can we detect such errors. I don’t think so all lab does loading control from same stripped lanes. Thanks in advance for your suggestions

    Nush Saga

    July 8, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    • With blots one should always consider the possibility of image manipulation, which is much easier than manipulating the relative amounts of protein/antibody… If by repeating the same protocol you cannot reach the same result, the published protocol is pure fantasy, ditto!..

      CR

      October 2, 2013 at 6:46 pm

  17. Here’s something that might be of interest to the writers and readers of this blog: Apparently, a psychology paper that has been cited 964 times has been exposed as being pure nonsense. See this entry on the Neuroskeptic blog:

    “Positivity Ratio” Criticized In New Sokal Affair

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/07/16/death-of-a-theory

    There may be some retractions in this paper’s future…

    Yoda

    July 18, 2013 at 2:50 am

  18. Could anyone else please help me compare these two recent papers below:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22519534

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23305623

    I have the impression there is a lot of overlap — sequence and modeling of 2 isoforms of the same protein by slightly different methods — and some eerie similarities between the chromatograms produced between and within the papers? I seem to see repeated baseline noise on those, but I am not sure. Also cannot evaluate the blots from lack of experience. Would appreciate impressions from some more experienced colleague, please.

    CR

    October 8, 2013 at 6:09 am

  19. Can anyone get access to the 2004 issues of Chin Med Sci J ? These papers, by the same authors, seem remarkably similar, based on the information in the abstract:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15506639

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15331176

    Piet

    October 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm

  20. This retraction notice has to be one the most generous to fall upon these aged eyes.

    Retraction notice: Odanacatib for the treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. Roland D Chapurlat MD PhD. Posted online on October 25, 2013. (doi:10.1517/14656566.2014.853038)

    Unfortunately, due to an honest error from the author, a small portion of this otherwise reliable published article contains clinically inaccurate data. The publisher and author agree to retract the paper pending correction.

    Read More: http://informahealthcare.com/doi/full/10.1517/14656566.2014.868399

    BellWiley

    December 6, 2013 at 11:04 am

  21. Okay, so I am going to sound like a dolt but I have an obvious question: if I run into a retraction in a journal I read and RW has not gotten to it yet, what is the best way of alerting Adam or Ivan about it? Apologies galore is this has been covered elsewhere and I managed to miss it.

    BellWiley

    December 6, 2013 at 11:55 am

  22. Hej,
    I have a similar questions to BellWiley – we were discussing a paper in our journal club the other day and we found that two microscopy images in a panel of like 6×2 images were identical. Not even slightly changed or contrast enhanced, just like identical. What can you do in a case like that – notify the journal or the corresponding author?

    Elli

    April 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    • You can either write the authors and request an explanation, cc’ing the editor, or write the editor and cc the authors requesting investigstion/correction/reteaction or whatever you think is appropriate based on COPE or other guidelines.

      Editors and authors cant be trusted.to inform.each other if you only write to one. If you choose to write editor, think carefully about if you want to submit a signed letterof concern for.publication or an anonymous one clearly marked NOT for publication. Per COPE guidelines, journals that publish corrections or retractions are supposed to acknowledge by name whoever brought the issues to their attention.

      Albert Donnay

      June 13, 2014 at 9:02 am

  23. As a lay person who never reads scientific journals, but somehow started following RW, I have no good way of judging the scope of the problem – namely falsifying research. Just from following your blog, I wonder about the proportion of untainted articles to tainted articles. Help me put this in some perspective. I want to trust science, but this is scary!

    Lighten Up

    July 8, 2014 at 12:26 pm

  24. WIT Press

    REMOVED – A Comparison Of The Efficacy Of Greenhouse Gas Forcing And Solar Forcing

    I questioned WIT on the paper’s peer review and received this response:

    “I have now received the result of a peer evaluation carried out urgently yesterday on the paper you brought into question, and have decided to withdraw it from our eLibrary.

    We appreciate you bringing the matter to our attention.”

    Kevin O'Neill

    October 15, 2014 at 10:49 am

  25. Here’s another retraction in accounting: http://aaajournals.org/doi/abs/10.2308/iace-50965

    annonymous

    October 22, 2014 at 11:55 am


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