A retraction in Neurology highlights an unusual practice

There’s a retraction in the issue of Neurology published this week. In a nutshell, a group of researchers had reported earlier this year that they had identified a genetic mutation potentially responsible for a rare neurological disorder called the filamin myopathy. But when another group tried to replicate those results, they found that the original tests were probably contaminated by a “pseudogene.”

In a letter from the second group:

Kono et al reported the effects of a novel c.8107del mutation in the filamin C gene (FLNC). We reviewed their results and concluded that the reported mutation was mistaken identity.

In a response, the authors thank the group and conclude:

We will voluntarily retract the article and consider the possibility of a pseudogene to reduce the risk of a misdiagnosis in the future.

Sounds like a fairly typical honest scientific error that’s now been corrected through a retraction. Good.

What caught our eye was the fact that the note was headlined “voluntary retraction.” We hadn’t seen that before. A quick search of Neurology showed three other examples:

And Neurology runs regular old retractions too. There was this one, a case of self-plagiarism which certainly didn’t start out as voluntary:

We were advised that the above article by Drs. Davies and Shringarpure published in Neurology was almost identical to an article by the same authors published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine in 2002. The text in the two papers is essentially the same, except for minor changes in wording and one paragraph added to the Neurology paper. The references are the same. This constitutes a violation of Neurology’s Information for Authors and the guidelines for authors in the “Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Writing and Editing for Biomedical Publication.” We are therefore retracting the paper published in Neurology.

We couldn’t find any retractions labeled as “voluntary” in other journals, although retraction notices often use the word, of course.

Neurology obviously takes publication ethics seriously. They have a Scientific Integrity Advisor, who co-authored this 2004 editorial on scientific misconduct and ethics.

We’ve contacted that advisor, and the editor of the journal, for more context, and will update when we hear back. [Update, 1 p.m. Eastern, 12/18/10: The journal’s scientific integrity advisor, Robert Daroff, told us he believed that he introduced “voluntary retraction” to Neurology, without having seen it anywhere else. The National Library of Medicine’s Sheldon Kotzin confirmed that he has only found it in the titles of citations in Neurology.]

We have to say, we like the “voluntary retraction” label. Maybe it should be obvious based on the narrative of a retraction notice — and who has signed it — whether a retraction is voluntary or not, but why not specify it right in the headline?

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