Retraction number four appears in PNAS for work of Alirio Melendez, who has resigned post at U Liverpool

Alirio Melendez, who has had three of his papers retracted amidst suspicions about 70, has had another one retracted, this one in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). And he has also resigned from his post at the University of Liverpool, we have just learned.

Here’s the notice:

Retraction for “The cytokine interleukin-33 mediates anaphylactic shock,” by Peter N. Pushparaj, Hwee Kee Tay, Shiau Chen H’ng, Nick Pitman, Damo Xu, Andrew McKenzie, Foo Y. Liew, and Alirio J. Melendez, which appeared in issue 24, June 16, 2009, of Proc Natl Acad Sci USA (106:9773–9778; first published June 8, 2009; 10.1073/pnas.0901206106).

The undersigned authors wish to note the following: “The panels in Fig. 2B1 and 2D3 are identical and used in a later paper (1), now retracted. The panels in Fig. 3E4 and 3E9 are used in two later publications, also now retracted (2, 3). Although we believe the overall message of the paper is correct, we can no longer consider the findings to be reliable. Accordingly, we wish to retract the paper. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to other investigators.”

Peter N. Pushparaj
Hwee Kee Tay
Shiau Chen H’ng
Nick Pitman
Damo Xu
Andrew McKenzie
Foo Y. Liew

1. Pushparaj PN, et al. (2009) Sphingosine kinase 1 is pivotal for Fc ε RI-mediated mast cell signaling and functional responses in vitro and in vivo. J Immunol 183:221–227.

2. Puneet P, et al. (2010) SphK1 regulates proinflammatory responses associated with endotoxin and polymicrobial sepsis. Science 328:1290–1294.

3. Puneet P, et al. (2011) The helminth product ES-62 protects against septic shock via Toll-like receptor 4-dependent autophagosomal degradation of the adaptor MyD88. Nat Immunol 12:344–351.

(The second citation, in Science, hasn’t actually been retracted yet. It was the subject of an Expression of Concern in October 2011 following a correction in January 2011. We asked PNAS about this, and they thanked us for flagging it and said it was an error that would be corrected.)

The paper has been cited 98 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

PNAS tells us they asked all the authors to sign the retraction, and Melendez wouldn’t. We tried him at his Liverpool email, but it bounced. Liverpool suspended Melendez last October in April 2011 pending an investigation, and we now learn that he resigned sometime after that. A university spokesperson tells Retraction Watch:

Professor Alirio Melendez worked for the University of Liverpool from August 2010 to November 2011. Following allegations of research misconduct relating to discrepancies in two papers, Professor Melendez was suspended pending an investigation. The work relating to the papers was conducted before Professor Melendez’ s appointment to the University of Liverpool.

Before the University’s internal processes were completed, Professor Melendez resigned his position.

Melendez’s employers prior to Liverpool, the University of Glasgow and the National University of Singapore, have also been investigating the case, and we will update with anything we learn about those outcomes.

Update, 10:45 a.m. Eastern, 8/15/12: Liverpool tells us that the university stopped its investigation once Melendez resigned.

Update, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 8/15/12: Richard van Noorden points out that the Journal of Immunology paper listed in the retraction notice as retracted has not actually been retracted. As we noted, PNAS said they will be correcting the notice’s error about the Science paper.

Update, 10 p.m. Eastern, 9/5/12: PNAS has corrected the Science reference in the retraction.

19 thoughts on “Retraction number four appears in PNAS for work of Alirio Melendez, who has resigned post at U Liverpool”

  1. Errors do pop up here and then. Now PNAS has to correct the retraction notice…Why? This case has taken a very long time – I guess. What is going on?

  2. I don’t know if Retractions Watch readers have been following the Gu Kailai / Bo Xilai political scandal and murder cases at the highest levels of Chinese Communitist Politburo in China (see, for example, The murder case against Gu Kailai was a pre-scripted farce designed to protect exposing the corruption at the highest level of the ruling royalty (see, for example, Singapore is a softer version of China, and Singapore institutions follow procedures similar to what China does. Since the name of top research administrator at NUS appears in some of Melendez’s papers and since his own integrity has been called into question because of plagiarism, don’t expect anything really revealing from the NUS investigation.

      1. Touched a sensitive nerve there, eh?! Look at the Ito investigation by NUS. The final finding was a foregone conclusion, and the official narrative was written to fit the finding. The problem with the Melendez case is that administrators in powerful positions made themselves “collaborators” in his publications, and the most influential research administrator, a coauthor, inserted himself in the investigation. What is even worse, his own ethical behavior has been questioned ( Would one expect an unbiased investigation that rattles the very foundation of the research administration?! Now, does this sound familiar in the Chinese context? Gu Kailai may be guilty of murder, but would the Chinese Politburo conduct a fair investigation that would expose Gu’s husband Bo, which would then bring attention to corruption by other Politburo members? Read the cited articles.

  3. Just adding in a minor correction on this story. Liverpool suspended Melendez in April 2011, not October 2011 as you have written (at least, that is what I was told by the university spokesperson last year).

    So the timeline: investigation (still ongoing!) has been happening since March 2011; Melendez suspended in April; investigation becomes public in October; Melendez resigns in November.

    1. Thanks Richard, corrected. Also added an update that Liverpool told us, in response to a follow-up question, that they stopped their investigation once Melendez resigned.

      1. So did he make a deal? He resigns and the institution stops its investigation, thereby avoiding any official finding of fault/guilt/responsibility? His previous employers might then argue that if Liverpool doesn’t care, neither do they.

        If the work was done and the papers were published before he was employeed at Liverpool, than I don’t understand why that institution was investigating. And if for some reason they were justified in investigating, I don’t think his resignation is a reason to stop investigating.

      2. No deal, but if you employ someone in this situation then you have to investigate – after all continued employment is not compatible with this sort of behavior, regardless of where it was carried out. However, once he resigned, there is no point Liverpool investigating, particularly since the papers in question were published in a different jurisdiction.

  4. I commented on this in my blog

    My suspicion is that Liverpool took a “softly, softly” approach rather than throwing the book because of the way UK libel law works. It would be simple to sue, the University would run up a legal bill of £1 million or more and then the litigant could not pay legal fees. Worse, despite the evidence being clear, the level of proof being so low in libel law, the University might lose the case! The money is better spent on buildings, libraries and students. So although in some ways I would have preferred the University to have made a bit more “noise” over its handling of this affair, if only to distance itself from the sluggish speed of other institutions where Melendez has worked, it makes sense from an institutional point of view.

    The lack of activity since February 2012 at the excellent abnormal science blog
    makes me wonder about the power of libel law across Europe….

    Meanwhile, almost a year down the road we await the Glasgow and NUS verdicts, particularly the latter, where a lot of suspect papers were produced.

    1. The University would be protected by qualified privilege – namely provided they followed the agreed long-standing procedure of that insitution in regards to investigating scientific misconduct and observed procedural fairness, they could not be sued.

      It might be possible for the suspect to sue to prevent release or publication of the report, but not to sue for libel.
      Unless you can think of an instance where that has happened successfully.

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