Slate has retracted a story about controversial bioethicist Glenn McGee and his involvement with Celltex Therapeutics, a Texas-based company that says it extracts and banks stem cells from people’s fat. Where the story by University of Minnesota bioethicist Carl Elliott once appeared now sits this editor’s note:
On Feb. 17, 2012, Slate published an article titled “The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics.” Because of shortcomings in the editorial process, the article did not meet Slate’s standards for verification and fairness and should not have been published. We withdraw the article and apologize to Dr. Glenn McGee.
As with other stories about McGee — including this 2008 one from Scientific American, which Ivan commissioned and edited, detailing how McGee left a post at the Alden March Bioethics Institute under a cloud — this one about his role at Celltex is complicated. The American Journal of Bioethics, which McGee co-founded, is involved, and Texas governor (and former Republican presidential candidate) Rick Perry even plays a part. Elliott’s colleague Leigh Turner has a good summary here.
Nature reported yesterday that despite being Celltex’s “first president for ethics and strategic initiatives,” McGee
declined to answer Nature’s questions about the company’s knowledge of or involvement in the clinical use of its stem cells, nor would he talk about the legality and ethical nature of such practices.
beyond sleazy adult stem cell industry is a mess bit.ly/ziste5
And at 11:45 p.m. Eastern, McGee himself tweeted:
Enough. I resigned from #Celltex Therapeutics on & effective 2/28/2012. I am preparing timely, lengthy, pointed comments on the whole matter
Of note: Some readers may recall a well-publicized 2001 retraction by Slate of a story about “monkeyfishing.” In that case, the magazine left the original story intact, but added the following on top of it:
In February 2007, writer Jay Forman contacted Slate to confess that his entire story was untrue. See this article.
It has been established that key details of this article were fabricated. Click here for more information and Slate’s apology.
*(My point here is not to compare the two stories, but to compare how Slate dealt with them — in one case leaving the story intact but adding context, while in the other removing the story entirely.)
We’ve tried to contact key players in this new story, but given the hour of this initial post, we don’t expect to hear back from them for a bit. We’re particularly interested in which parts of the story couldn’t be verified, and what prompted the retraction. We’ll update with anything we hear.
Update, 7 a.m. Eastern: Slate editor David Plotz responded to an email requesting comment:
Because of shortcomings in our editorial process, the article did not meet Slate standards. That is all Slate is going to say about the matter.
Update, 9 a.m. Eastern, 3/1/12: Elliott tells me that the retraction came after McGee threatened Slate with a lawsuit:
Actually, except for minor factual errors, like the address of the journal — each of which I was happy to correct — there were no problems with verification. The withdrawal seemed to me to be driven entirely by fear of litigation. Their main fear seemed to be my referring to McGee’s unpleasant departure from Albany Medical College, which had been reported in Scientific American.
Also added sentence with an asterisk in front of it about comparing two retractions.
Update, 5 p.m. Eastern, 3/1/12: Heisel has also posted a letter from lawyers representing McGee. It’s similar to the one from Celltex. Key line:
If the article is not pulled by close of business Tuesday, February 28, 2012, We will take appropriate legal action on Dr. McGee’s behalf.