Retractions arrive in case of Edward Erin, British allergist who tried to poison mistress

Good people can make bad researchers, but can bad people make good science?

We’re agnostic on the question, but anyone who thinks the answer is no need look only as far as Edward Erin for validation of that view. An allergy expert in the U.K., Erin was convicted in 2009 of attempting to poison a mistress in an effort to induce an abortion.

Erin, who is now serving a six-year prison sentence for his crime, was evidently something of a libertine. The Mirror described him as a

serial adulterer who revelled in the sexual freedom of the ‘open relationship’ his wife allowed him.

According to the Mirror:

Erin was so secretive about his private life that one doctor who had worked with him for nine years did not even realise he was married with children.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM) has retracted four publications — two papers, two meeting abstracts — on which Erin, then at Imperial College of London, was first author.

From the notice (we’ve added links):

Following an investigation by the Imperial College of London, and at the request of a group of the authors (Trevor T. Hansel, M.D.; Andrew Bush, M.D.; Onn Min Kon, M.D.; and Peter J. Barnes, M.D.) the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has agreed to retract the following articles due to concerns regarding the veracity of the data and the validity of the conclusions:

1 Erin EM, Leaker BR, Nicholson GC, Tan AJ, Green LM, Neighbor H, Zacharasiewicz AS, Turner J, Barnathan ES, Kon OM, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. The effects of a monoclonal antibody directed against tumornecrosisfactor-a in asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2006;174:753–762.

2     Erin EM, Jenkins GR, Kon OM, Zacharasiewicz AS, Nicholson GC, Neighbor H, Tennant RC, Tan AJ, Leaker BR, Bush A, Jose PJ, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Optimized dialysis and protease inhibition of sputum dithiothreitol supernatants. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2008;177:132–141.

The following American Thoracic Society International Conference abstracts published in AJRCCM are also being retracted:

1 Erin EM, Zacharasiewicz AS, Jose PJ, Williams TJ, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Optimized dialysis to restore immunoreactivity of chemokines and cytokines in sputum supernatants containing dithiothreitol [abstract]. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2005;171: A313.

2 Erin EM, Neighbor H, Nicholson GC, Kon OM, Madsen PC, Foster MR, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Post allergen challenge re­producibility and dose response in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis [abstract]. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2007; 175:A199.

The first paper listed has been cited an impressive 75 times, according to the Thomson Scientific Web of Knowledge. The second has been cited 8 times.

Erin’s co-author Barnes is a leading allergy researcher who happens also to be an editor of AJRCCM. We emailed him for comment but have yet to receive a reply.

Erin’s name appears on at least 16 articles in Medline, in journals including AJRCCM, CHEST, and Clinical & Experimental Allergy. So far, only the AJRCCM has retracted any of Erin’s work. We have reached out to the editors of these publications to find out whether they intend to do so.

We do have a modest gripe — not a new one — with how the AJRCCM handled the retractions. Like many publications, the  journal has put the notice behind its paywall.  That doesn’t serve the interests of readers or researchers who might not subscribe to the title. We think all retraction notices, corrections and such should be posted outside these barriers so that access to the material is free for all to see. And while we’re at it, the original abstracts don’t yet include any notation that they’ve been retracted.

Hat tip: Andrew MacGinnitie.

Note: We have removed the image originally accompanying this post at the request of the ATS.

3 thoughts on “Retractions arrive in case of Edward Erin, British allergist who tried to poison mistress”

  1. Perhaps I’m wrong, but apart from the poisoning allegation what aspect of his sexual proclivities is relevant to his scientific conduct? (Perhaps I’m missing something…)

    In my opinion you should reserve the moral pronouncements for when you’re talking about the science.

    1. While I agree that one’s private sexual life is not relevant, the deliberate attempt to harm another is – the poisoning was not just an allegation – he received a 6 year jail sentence for this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-13945541

      Lacking the backbone to face up to the consequences of your behaviour is a fairly reliable indicator of poor judgement in other areas.

  2. I agree with you that readers shouldn’t have to pay to read retraction notices. In fact, the COPE guidelines state this clearly (stating “retraction notices should be freely available to all readers (i.e. not behind access barriers or available only to subscribers)” ) How can we persuade publishers to change this practice?

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