ExpungedBob? Algae journal pulls phytoplankton paper with unwitting co-author

Mashup of Chevron-SpongeBob ad courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonathanmcintosh/

While looking at a recent retraction notice in the Journal of Phycology, the one of us with small children at home couldn’t help but imagine a conversation between cartoon character SpongeBob and his nemesis, Plankton:

SpongeBob: You used me … for land development! That wasn’t nice.

Sheldon J. Plankton: Haven’t you figured it out, SpongeBob? Nice guys finish last. Only aggressive people conquer the world. Ha ha ha ha!

SpongeBob: Well … what about aggressively nice people?

Who knew the world of phytoplankton could be so cutthroat? (Spoiler alert: we did.)

Consider: The Journal of Phycology — phycology is the study of algae and related organisms — is retracting a paper after learning that one of the three co-authors, well, wasn’t. Cyanobacteria may be the oldest known life form on earth, but the hyper-ambitious aren’t far behind.

Here’s the notice:

The following article from the Journal of Phycology, ‘‘Carotenoids, mycosporine-like amino acid compounds, phycobiliproteins, and scytonemin in the genus Scytonema (cyanobacteria): a chemosystematic study,’’ submitted by Antonia D. Asencio, and published online on August 22, 2011, on Wiley Online Library (http://www.wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editor, Robert Sheath, and Wiley Periodicals Inc. The retraction has been agreed to due to Ferran Garcia-Pichel, listed as coauthor, not having agreed to the submission or publication of the manuscript.

Asencio, A. D., Garcıa-Pichel, F. & Hoffmann, L. 2011. Carotenoids, mycosporine-like amino acid compounds, phycobiliproteins, and scytonemin in the genus Scytonema (cyanobacteria): a chemosystematic study. Journal of Phycology DOI: 10.1111/j.1529-8817.2011.01041.x.

We’re curious how this trio of researchers found each other. We’re guessing some permutation of graduate student work or visiting professorship, but we haven’t been able to confirm that. We attempted to contact Garcia-Pichel and will update this post if we learn more.

We’re also wondering how the journal vetted the author information, since it clearly did not do an adequate job. We reached out to Robert Sheath for comment but haven’t heard back.

Hat tip: Tom Langen

5 thoughts on “ExpungedBob? Algae journal pulls phytoplankton paper with unwitting co-author”

  1. Unless there are aggravating factors that the retraction notice does not divulge, this retraction would seem not to conform with the COPE guidelines on retractions.

    “Retractions are not usually appropriate if:
    • a change of authorship is required but there is no reason to doubt the validity of the findings”

    Wiley-Blackwell is a member of COPE and hence is supposed to follow these guidelines.

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