A retraction with a complex and yet unclear narrative appears in the April 25, 2011 issue of Physics Letters A. According to the notice, for “Nuclear spin magnetic resonance force microscopy using slice modulation:”
This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors of Physics Letters A because there are unsettled issues on how the research was carried out, how the data were acquired and analyzed. The article was removed from the journal issue before printing although it appeared online. In addition, the article was accidentally published online twice in the same journal.
As the notice suggests, this was actually the second retraction, of the same paper. Here was the first, in 2008, shortly after the paper was published. And here is a removal notice, from later that year. We haven’t come across such an occurrence before, although we’ve been writing Retraction Watch for less than a year.
There are six editors of Physics Letters A, and we tried them all for comment on the “unsettled issues.” A few pointed to Burkhard Fricke, the communicating editor for the paper, who is no longer with the journal. He didn’t respond to requests for more information.
A few referred us to Karine van Wetering, a publisher at Elsevier:
In reply to your question I can inform you that this article has been retracted in 2008 at the request of the Editors of Physics Letters A because there are unsettled issues on how the research was carried out, how the data were acquired and analyzed. At that time the article was removed from the journal issue before printing. The article should have been retracted on the ScienceDirect site but due to a publisher error it accidently appeared on ScienceDirect in its full form for some time. The version of the article on ScienceDirect has now also been retracted.
We appreciated the response, but repeating the notice isn’t exactly a forthcoming answer when we’re asking for details. So we pressed, and got this:
About the unsettled issues, information about the retractions were communicated with the authors, and for me to comment apart from that dialogue would be inappropriate!
As far as the 2 retraction notices are concerned, this is because of our omission to retract the online version of the article at the same time the print article was retracted and removed.
Basically the message was, ask the author. We heard that from another one of the editors, too. So we did. An email to Ren Ren, the paper’s corresponding author, was answered from another email address that didn’t include Ren’s name. The email called the retraction “unfair,” claimed that someone had deleted the original data from Ren’s computer — although the writer may have meant “stole,” since English was apparently not his or her first language — and said that he had faced “assault and battery.”
Now, people in China who try to ferret out academic misconduct have indeed been victims of such crimes. But it’s quite hard to verify any of what’s in this email, and piece together what actually happened here. We asked the emailer for more detail, but he or she hasn’t responded.
Hat tip: Ivan Christov