Mistaken notice as Ben Gurion researchers retract vitamin D paper for duplication

“Clare Francis,” a prolific pseudonymous Retraction Watch tipster, emailed us recently to flag a retraction in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (JSBMB) of “The anti-inflammatory activity of 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 in macrophages,” a paper by Amos Douvdevani and colleagues at Ben Gurion University in Israel.

Here’s what we found when we clicked on the notice for the 2007 paper, which has been cited 32 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge:

This article has been retracted at the request of the authors, in response to concerns raised by the research committee at the authors’ institution. The authors stated the committee had given approval but the committee states no approval was given. The research committee has asked the authors to retract the paper and the authors have agreed.

That sounded odd to us, since it was unclear what approval was needed, or hadn’t been given. Plus, we’d seen criticism of the paper from Karin Wiebauer on Joerg Zwirner’s Abnormal Science blog, which was first to report that the study would be retracted. Wiebauer had been looking into the Douvdevani lab because some of its members had worked with Silva Bulfone-Paus, whose work she had scrutinized, leading to a dozen retractions. Wiebauer had suggested that the JSBMB paper had significant duplications from an earlier paper from the group in Nephrology Dialysis Transplantation.

Sure enough, when we asked the JSBMB editor about the retraction notice, he got right back to us and said it was an error, and would be replaced with the following:

This proceedings article has been retracted at the request of the authors as most of the data presented had already appeared in a paper entitled “Vitamin D decreases NFκB activity by increasing IκBα levels”. M. Cohen-Lahav, S. Shany, D. Tobvin, C. Chaimovitz and A. Douvdevani, Nephrol. Dial. Transpl., 21 (2006) 889–897, doi:10.1093/ndt/gfi254, due to their misunderstanding of the respective publishing and copyright policies of the journal and a conference proceedings publication.

That’s the text there now. (Of course, now we want to know what committee, at what institution, had been looking into the paper belonging to that other notice, but we digress.)

There may be more to this case. A Ben Gurion spokesperson told us earlier this week:

Currently there is an inter-university committee that is following up on this matter, which is expected to take another month or so to reach its conclusions.

The Douvdevani withdrawal is the third retraction for the journal in recent months.

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