In July, the editors of Cancer Biology & Therapy published a retraction remarkable for its scope. Apparently, nearly everything dishonest authors can do to doctor a manuscript, these authors did.
The paper, “Overexpression of transketolase protein TKTL1 is associated with occurrence and progression in nasopharyngeal carcinoma,” initially appeared on the journal’s website in January 2008. It came out in print three months later, in the April issue, and has been cited 8 times since, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.
The authors were Song Zhang, Jian Xin Yue, Ju Hong Yang, Peng Cheng Cai and Wei Jia Kong, of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Hubei, China. It will be quite clear why we listed all those authors in a moment.
At some point—the retraction notice is vague here, and we couldn’t get the journal’s editor to respond to our requests for comment—the editors received allegations of misconduct associated with the paper. On investigation, the retraction notice states, “the Editors have found significant evidence of fraud perpetrated by some of the authors.”
Said fraud? Again, from the notice:
1) Dr. Wei Jia Kong’s name was used as the corresponding author without his knowledge or consent. Furthermore, Dr. Cai Pengcheng was unaware of his status as an author of the manuscript.
2) A fake email address for Dr. Kong was constructed and used by the authors to intercept any information that would be sent to the corresponding author.
3) Dr. Zhang Song and Ms. Yang Juhong have modified their accounts of the events several times during the investigation, making it difficult to determine exactly what occurred with respect to the data in question. However, The Editors have determined that Figure 4 of this manuscript is a re-publication of data in Cancer Letters (2007) 253:108-114 [“Gene silencing of TKTL1 by RNAi inhibits cell proliferation in human hepatoma cells”, by Song Zhang, Ju-Hong Yang, Chang-Kai Guo and Peng-cheng Cai]. The authors have misrepresented their data as being from 2 separate cell lines.
For those keeping score at home, that’s hitting for the cycle! Misleading authorship, plagiarism, data manipulation. And let’s not forget tampering with email.
For their substantial efforts, Song and Juhong have received a five-year ban from publishing in Cancer Biology & Therapy, according to the letter. They are also under investigation by their university, and “additional actions are being undertaken.”
The letter reserves some righteous indignation for the email tampering:
We would like to note that despite the precautions put in place to prevent misconduct such as this, the authors were able to bypass these precautions by inventing a new mailbox and initialing our “contibuting [sic] author notification”, thereby indicating that all of the authors knew about the manuscript. We find this behavior reprehensible and a violation of ethical scientific conduct.
True, although it’s not more reprehensible than fabricating data, and the implications for science aren’t nearly as significant.
We particularly do like the last two lines, though:
Finally, we would like to thank the scientists who report their suspicions of plagiarism and other misconduct. We appreciate their help in achieving excellence in scientific integrity.
Read more “best of” retractions here.