Fraud by Naoki Mori claims another paper, this one in a journal whose board he sits on

Late last month we wrote about a handful of retractions involving Naoki Mori, a promising Japanese cancer researcher who appears to have built a CV with the help of fabricated evidence.

The fraud earned Mori a 10-year publishing ban from the American Society of Microbiology, which publishes Infection and Immunity. There were two other retractions in Blood, from the American Society of Hematology.

Now, another journal has joined the party.

Retrovirology, a BioMed Central title, has retracted a 2006 paper by Mori, titled “Inhibition of constitutively active Jak-Stat pathway suppresses cell growth of human T-cell leukemia virus type 1-infected T-cell lines and primary adult T-cell leukemia cells.” The study has been cited 17 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

According to the journal:

The authors of this article (Retrovirology 2006, 3:22) would like to retract it. It contains duplicated Tax and actin Western blotting images. These misrepresentations do not change the scientific conclusion of the paper. The first author, Mariko Tomita and last author, Naoki Mori, take full responsibility for the duplication and misrepresentation of the figures in this paper, state that none of the co-authors were involved in or aware of these events, and apologizes to the readers, reviewers and editors of Retrovirology for publishing these duplicated images.

Interestingly, Mariko Tomita was not a co-author on the papers we covered previously. But an M Tomita does receive a writing credit with Mori on at least a dozen recent publications, including several in the International Journal of Cancer and a 2008 article in Retrovirology, “Human T-cell leukemia virus type I infects human lung epithelial cells and induces gene expression of cytokines, chemokines and cell adhesion molecules.”

The pair have been working together for at least five years. We came across a 2005 abstract by Mori and Tomita submitted to that year’s meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research, titled “Activation of ß-catenin signaling by HTLV-1 transforming protein Tax.”

Kuan-Teh Jeang, editor-in-chief of Retrovirology, said problem paper came to his attention several months ago when he was contacted by the administration at Mori’s institution, University of the Ryukyus. As it happens, Jeang had recently seen the two retractions in Blood of Mori’s work, which appeared in late August.

Their school did a fairly extensive investigation and I think they came up with whatever papers were questionable and whatever papers were exonerated. We questioned the authors and the authors said yes, this was indeed the case and they agreed [to the retraction].

Jeang said the Japanese authors submitted the language for the retraction notice, and he has no way of verifying whether the claim about the results being solid is accurate.

For a small journal like ours it’s impossible to mount a detailed investigation. We are relying upon what the dean’s office from their school tells us about what was right  and what was wrong.

However, Jeang said the deception appears to have involved the repetitive use of an internal control — in this case, a Western blot analysis.

With Western blot, you blot for a protein like actin to show that equal amounts of protein were loaded in each lane. My understanding was they did that independently every time but when they published the papers they used one series of actin that they had previously achieved in Western blotting. They kept on using the same data as their internal control as opposed to the actual data, which apparently they have.

Although Retrovirology has yet to ban Mori from its pages, and is not retracting his 2008 article, Jeang said he will likely face a de facto prohibition in the entire field. It turns out that Mori is even on Retrovirology‘s editorial board, but “he won’t be when we turn over some members of the board this year, which will happen soon,” Jeang told Retraction Watch.

My guess is that functionally, he probably won’t be able to get any papers accepted. Ours is a small community. Once a retraction is published, everybody is on heightened notice about his group.

We have reached out to the International Journal of Cancer and will update this post when we hear back from them.

Update, 7:50 p.m. Eastern, 1/12/10: Please see comment below from Cath Ennis about three more retractions by Mori, these in the Journal of Virology. Thanks, Cath.

3 thoughts on “Fraud by Naoki Mori claims another paper, this one in a journal whose board he sits on”

  1. There is a notion expressed in some reports on scientific misconduct that somehow “the biology is correct”. The investigators of scientific misconduct may fail to understand that the people who manipulate data will know the contours of the field, and could predict likely results. Their predictions may even be correct most of the time. The data may very well fit with reality, except that the images are just that, images. Have they never heard of cunning?

    In any case as the editor of the journal mentions he does not have the resources to check the veracity of the work. Letting the same people who did the data manipulation then “repeat” the work does not seem a reliable way of telling the truth.

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