Remaining Zhiguo Wang retractions will be in the Journal of Cellular Physiology

We’ve been following the case of Zhiguo Wang, the former Montreal Heart Institute researcher who was forced to resign his post in early September following an investigation into his work. At the time of that announcement, two retractions of the Wang group’s papers — which we had reported on in August — had appeared. The Institute said they had requested three more.

We figured that meant a total of five, although the Institute wouldn’t say which they were. So when we found out about a third retraction, in the Journal of Cell Science, we said it was the first of the remaining three.

We were wrong. It turns out there will be six retractions altogether, the Institute told Retraction Watch yesterday. It took us obtaining an email exchange between Wang and a critic — more on that in a moment — to clear things up. In that email exchange, Wang says the other three will be in the Journal of Cellular Physiology (JCP).

What happened, we now know, is that the Journal of Cell Science retraction had already been requested, so when the Institute requested three more, they weren’t counting it. It’s not clear why the Institute — which, we should note, acted much more swiftly and decisively than others faced with similar situations — wouldn’t just say which papers would be retracted, but this isn’t the first time Canadians have tried unsuccessfully to hide information from Retraction Watch.

Although we still don’t know the titles of the three studies, Wang’s group has published three papers in the JCP:

Now here’s the message someone calling himself Michael Rao sent to a number of journal editors earlier this month, with a subject line, “Articles with scientific misconduct:”

I am writing to you to show some solid evidences for articles with fabricated data published in Journals that you serve as editor(s) by the former researcher Zhiguo Wang from Montreal Heart Institute.

Montreal Heart Institute made a great decision on September 2, 2011 for firing the former Research Zhigou Wang due to the scientific misconduct. Three articles with fabricated and/or manipulated research data had been retracted from JBC and J Cell Science.

However, the question is that Zhigou Wang stated to Chinese Media that he did nothing wrong, and cheated nonprofessional Chinese audience that the digital data he showed in the retracted articles are absolutely correct, and he just reused the images. He expressed that he is unfairly treated by the Institute with the paper retraction.  He told the Media that he initiatively retracted the articles, and resigned from the Institution.

It is really shameless about it.

We looked some recent publications from this group, and found that nine articles (published in Mol Pharmacol, J Cell Physiool, JBC, Nature Medicine, Cell Physiol Biochem, PLoS One, and EMBO J) from 2006 to 2011 contain the fabricated data as listed below.   He not only re-used the image data in different journals, but also used the same image data to indicate different proteins. The representative images are misused, how can their digital data measured from the images be “absolutely” corrected?

Gao et al. (2006) Mol Pharmacol 70, 1621
Lin et al., (2007)J Cell Physiol 212, 137.
Xiao et al., (2007) J Biol Chem, 282, 12363-12367.  Retracted
Xu et al., (2007)J Cell Sci 120 (17), 3045-3052.   Retracted
Yang et al., (2007) Nature Medicine 13, 489.
Luo et al., (2008)J Biol Chem 283 (29),20045-20052.  Retracted
Lin et al., (2009)Cell Physiol Biochem 23, 317-326.
Lin et al., (2011)PloS One 6(5): e20362
Xiao et al., (2011)EMBO J 30, 524.

The evidence for the fabricated data is listed below and showed in attached image files.
1.  Same WB HCN4 image is published in JBC (2008) Fig 3A and in Cell Physiol Biochem (2008) 4A (the JBC paper had been retracted).
2.  Same GAPDH WB image part is used for different experimental conditions in J Cell Science (2007) Fig 3B and J Cell Physiol (2007) Fig 6G   (The paper in J Cell Science had been retracted).
3.   Same EMSA image indicates different proteins in J Cell Physiol (2007) Fig 6C for Nkx3.1 while in Mol Pharmacol (2006) Fig 5A for Stat dODNs
4.  Same partial WB image indicates different proteins in J Cell Science (2007) Fig 3A for HSP60 protein, while in Nature Medicine (2007) for Kir2.1 protein (the paper in J Cell Science had been retracted)
5.  Same partial WB image indicates different proteins in J Cell Physiol (2007) Fig 6G for NK-kB protein, while in Nature Medicine (2007) Fig 2a for Cx43 protein.
6.  Same GAPDH image is used for different treatments of internal control in different journals in JBC (2008)Fig 4A for HCN2 WB, while in Nature Medicine (2007) Fig. 2a for Cx43 WB (the JBC paper had been retracted).
7.  Same WB image part indicates different proteins in different journals in J Cell Physiol (2007) Fig. 6G for Sp1, while in Nature Medicine (2007) Fig. 2a for Kir2.1 protein in HH (health hearts).
8.  Same ChiP image indicates different genes in different journals in PLoS One (2011) Fig. 1D for E2P1, while EMBO J (2011) for p53.

We believed that this terrible behavior severely damaged and violated the scientific reputation of these Journals.

We hope you could pay serious attention to these evidences.

Thank you very much for your time and attention.

The editor of one of the journals in question forwarded the message to Wang, and asked for his response. Yesterday, Wang responded to the group:

In response to your inquiry about our article published in CPB (Lin et al., Cell Physiol Biochem 23:317-326, 2009), as well as other papers from my laboratory,  I am now providing you some clarifications as outlined below. 

Rigorous investigation on our publications including the ones listed in the letter from the reader (Michael), by the Montreal Heart Institute, has been completed at the end og August.  After investigation, it has come to a conclusion that the problem in the involved papers is reuses of same Western blot band images in multiple publications of our won. The data reported in our Nature Medicine paper are in good integrity but a few Western blot images acquired from the experiments performed specifically for this study were misused in six of our subsequent studies. These misuses were evidently done by one of my technicians working in the Montreal Heart Institute. I myself have indeed requested retraction of these six papers on June 22; our two JBC papers and one JCS paper have been retracted in August and September; three JCP papers will be retracted in the next two weeks or so. At this time, we found no reasons to retract other papers. Thus, there is no such thing as stated by the reader (Michael), “Zhiguo Wang expressed that he is unfairly treated by the Institute with the paper retraction.”

I herein verify that our paper published in CPB (Lin et al., Cell Physiol Biochem 23:317-326, 2009) does not involve any data fabrication. Figure 4A of our CPB paper indeed contains the same set of data as Figure 3A of our JBC paper (Luo et al., J Biol Chem 283:20045-20052, 2008) which has been retracted on August 10. The reason for using the same data is because these two papers are about the same topic (gene expression regulation) but different aspects (post-transcription and transcription regulation of gene expression, respectively) of the same pathological process (a rat model of left ventricular hypertrophy). This point is indicated in our CPB paper and our JBC paper is also cited for this point. 

For our papers in EMBO J and PLoS ONE, our investigation has made it clear that it is a simple human error without any data fabrication. We have worked together with the editors of these journals to make corrections of the mistake.

Though as concluded by the Montreal Heart Institute that I personally have never directly committed myself nor indirectly instructed or given any hints to my laboratory staffs to commit scientific misconducts, the fact that the mistakes happen in my laboratory prompted me to resign from the University of Montreal to assume the responsibility for the issue as the director of the laboratory in the Montreal Heart Institute. As a result, my laboratory in the Montreal Heart Institute has also been closed on September 2, 2011. 

The reader (Michael) stated “he cheated nonprofessional Chinese audience that the digital data he showed in the retracted articles are absolutely correct.” This is rather irresponsible and distorted statement. In fact, Dr. Jean-Claude Tardif, the Director of Research Center in the Montreal Heart Institute, made a clear announcement in the press conference on the outcome of the investigation that the primary results and conclusions in Wang’s studies are still valid and most of the findings in the research have been duplicated in the works of other scientists. This announcement was also conveyed in multiple media in French, English and Chinese.

Although the Montreal Heart Institute has completed the investigation on these publications, we are still in the process of investigating our other publications including those published in CPB, particularly those with the contributions by the technician who did the misuses of Western blot bands. At this time we have not yet found any other problems. We shall surely notify you and editors of other journals should we find any problems. 

Thank you for your time into this matter. I would also like to take this opportunity to give my sincere apology for the inconvenience and potential negative impact on CPB and other journals. At the end, I also want to add that this “reader (Michael)” whom I know in person merely wants to use this matter for his own personal purpose but not really for the reputation of the journals; otherwise, he should not have exaggerated the issues and distorted the facts. 

Sincerely,  Zhiguo Wang, PhD, FAHA, FESC

As usual, we look forward to eagle-eyed Retraction Watch readers’ analysis of these claims and counterclaims.

16 thoughts on “Remaining Zhiguo Wang retractions will be in the Journal of Cellular Physiology”

  1. Ah the good old “blame the technician/postdoc” comment. What a surprise that a disgraced scientists would turn cowardly when caught red-handed. Embarrassing. He should be ashamed of himself.

  2. So it seems that Wang has implicated the technician. Do the papers in question share a common author? If yes, then that may be an explanation. If no, then, well, that explanation doesn’t fly.

    1. So, it is apparent that implicating a technician may not be as credible an excuse, in my opinion. Since none of the six papers shares one person in common, aside from Wang, than it is equally feasible that any of the others could also be implicated.

      Unless, of course, what Wang is stating is in fact the truth; in said case, we would have to take him on his word. Corroboration in some fashion from this implicated tech, however, would easily vouch for that.

      1. Agreed. Look, this is a culture that has been promoted in his lab by him. They are all involved in it, but he is the boss and the buck stops with him. That is all there is to it. I don’t understand why these PI’s are allowed to publicly blame their staff.

  3. There are more duplicated blots in the paper that Wang claimed no need for retraction (Lin et al., Cell Physiol Biochem 23:317-326, 2009). These include: (1) the GAPDH blots of HCN2 in Figure 4A are the same as those in Figure 3A (Lanes 3 and 4). (2) the GAPDH blots of HCN4 in Figure 4A are the same as those in Figure 4B (left two lanes of Neonatal). (3) the GAPDH blots of HCN2 in Figure 5B are the same as those in Figure 3C (left 5 lanes) of Xu et al, J. Cell Sci 120(17): 3045-3052, 2007 (retracted). How to upload these figures?

    1. It seems that this guy got used to publish the fraud data. It will be interesting to check each paper from this group to see how many articles do not contain the fraud data?

  4. It’s shameful to say the technician made the manipulation of the experimental data. Do you believe this technician would have such capability to do so in many articles including Nature Medicine, EMBO J, PLoS One, etc, which have not been retracted as illustrated on the Japanese site by WHY.

    If so, what did the boss in the paper publication?

  5. I have a big problem. I am a Phd student and I’m studying Zhiguo Wang’s papers about miRNAs involved in Atrial fibrillation so I wonder if I trust about them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.