Over the objections of the authors, PLOS ONE has retracted a paper linking a diet designed to restore healthy gut bacteria to weight loss and other benefits.
The study, published in June 2017, claimed to show that a “Microbiome restoration diet improves digestion, cognition and physical and emotional wellbeing.” The diet was one championed by The Gut Makeover, whose author, Jeannette Hyde, is also a co-author on the paper (which the paper clearly disclosed). The diet is “designed to improve the health and diversity of the microbiome,” the microbiota that live within us.
How much role did a potentially problematic paper play in the demise of a once-promising compound?
Researchers are questioning the validity of a high-profile article, published by Nature in 2006. Although the letter is 12 years old, the concerns have current implications: It was among the early evidence used to develop a cancer compound that recently failed a number of clinical trials.
It’s unclear whether the problems with the paper — if validated — could have contributed to the compound’s demise. But an outside expert has some thoughts — and so do image experts and multiple external reports, including one released this month, which agree the concerns about the figures have merit. (The first author’s ex-husband isn’t too happy with the article, either.)
What Caught Our Attention: This is the fourth retraction for Robert Ryan, formerly a high-profile researcher studying infections that can be deadly in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In 2016, the University of Dundee in Scotland determined that Ryan had committed research misconduct, including misrepresenting clinical data and duplicating images in a dozen different publications. (Ryan tried to appeal the decision, then resigned.) The latest retraction cites a few problems with the paper, including uncertainty about the provenance of some data.
According to the notice, the second-to-last author, George A. O’Toole at Dartmouth, disagrees with the text of the notice, not the decision to retract. We contacted O’Toole, who declined to comment.
We received a statement from Ryan about the retraction:
PNAS has corrected a highly cited paper after an investigation found evidence of misconduct.
The investigation—conducted jointly by the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center—uncovered image manipulation in Figure 2D, which “could only have occurred intentionally.” The institutions, however, could not definitively attribute the research misconduct to any individual.
According to the notice, the UCSF-VA committee determined that a correction to the 2008 PNAS paper—which explores the genetic underpinnings of prostate cancer—was “appropriate,” and the authors have now replaced the problematic figure with a corrected version. The 2008 paper has been cited 630 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
An external probe has concluded that a researcher based at the University of Gothenburg committed misconduct in multiple papers, all of which should be withdrawn.
Among 10 papers by Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson at the University of Gothenburg, an Expert Group concluded that eight contained signs of scientific misconduct. The Expert Group, part of Sweden’s Central Ethical Review Board, also found evidence of problems within her laboratory environment.
In an email to Retraction Watch, Sumitran-Holgersson denied any “willful manipulation of data.”
According to the report (in Swedish, which we translated using Google):