ORI findings lead to two retractions — nearly 17 years later

Well, it only took 17 years.

As two retraction notices in the September 15 issue of the Journal of Immunology note:

On October 19, 1995, the Office of Research Integrity at the National Institutes of Health found that Weishu Y. Weiser, Ph.D., formerly of the Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, committed scientific misconduct by falsifying data in biomedical research supported by two Public Health Service grants. As a result, she agreed to submit a letter to The Journal of Immunology to retract this article. The offices of The Journal of Immunology have no record of receiving such a letter and hence the article is now being retracted.

The retractions, for “Recombinant Migration Inhibitory Factor Induces Nitric Oxide Synthase in Murine Macrophages” and “Human Recombinant Migration Inhibitory Factor Activates Human Macrophages to Kill Leishmania donovani,” both say the same thing.

“Recombinant Migration Inhibitory Factor Induces Nitric Oxide Synthase in Murine Macrophages” has been  cited 66 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — 40 of those times since the ORI’s report was released. The numbers for the Leishmania paper are almost identical: Cited 66 times, with 38 of those coming after the report.

The notice for “Recombinant Migration Inhibitory Factor Induces Nitric Oxide Synthase in Murine Macrophages” is signed by Salvador Moncada, of University College London, and Eddy F. Y. Liew, of the University of Glasgow. Both have been involved in other recent retraction cases — Moncada with the case of Assegid Garedew, and Liew with the case of Alirio Melendez.

We’ve asked Moncada, Liew, and the journal why they acted now, almost 17 years after the ORI report. Liew responded:

I would have thought that the reason was self-explanatory in the retraction message.

We told him yes, the reason for the retraction was clear, but not the reason for the delay. Why wait 17 years? Why not, say, one, or five? He emailed back:

This is due to the value of the organisations like yours.

The delay brings to mind recommendations by the authors of a recent paper we covered on the fate of papers cited by ORI notices, namely that ORI

take legal action against researchers who do not honour an agreement to retract or correct an article associated with an official finding of misconduct. If an individual has been debarred for 5 years, ORI could make debarment indefinite if the individual does not make a good faith effort to honour the agreement.

We should also note, however, that it’s possible for the National Library of Medicine, which houses PubMed, to link to Federal Register notices — where ORI findings of misconduct always appear.

Weiser has retracted at least two other studies, “Inhibition of growth Mycobacterium avium in murine and human mononuclear phagocytes by migration inhibitory factor,” from Infection and Immunity, and “Recombinant human migration inhibitory factor has adjuvant activity,” from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The request to PNAS was also included in her ORI agreement:

She has agreed to submit a letter to the Journal of Immunology and to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences to retract the articles entitled “Human recombinant migration inhibitory factor activates human macrophages to kill Leishmania donovani” (Journal of Immunology 147:2006-2011, 1991), “Recombinant migration inhibitory factor induces nitric oxide synthase in murine macrophages” (Journal of Immunology 150:1908-1912, 1993), and “Recombinant human migration inhibitory factor has adjuvant activity” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 89:8049-8052, 1992).

Here’s the Infection and Immunity notice, from May 1994:

We reported that the recombinant migration inhibition factor activated both murine and human macrophages to inhibit the growth of Mycobacterium avium. The active molecule from the supernatants used was subsequently identified as a mitogenic contaminant. In view of this, the conclusions drawn from our earlier findings must be considered invalid, and thus we retract the paper.

And here’s the PNAS notice, from 1997:

The article ‘‘Recombinant human migration inhibitory factor has adjuvant activity’’ by Weishui Y. Weiser, Lu-Ann M. Pozzi, Richard G. Titus, and John R. David, which appeared in number 17, September 1, 1992, of Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (89, 8049–8052), is being retracted. See also Correction in number 24, December 15, 1993, of Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA (90, 12056) and Erratum in number 9, November 1, 1993, of J. Immunol. (151, last page, unnumbered).

11 thoughts on “ORI findings lead to two retractions — nearly 17 years later”

  1. Everybody involved is so quick to secure grant money and publish a wiz bang “significant” finding, but so slow to clean the scientific record
    laden with falsification and fabrication. They resemble the old “medicine man”
    with nostrums on the back of a stage coach, but they have PhDs, MDs, and MPHs
    to ply their goods!

    1. Ed Goodwin September 10, 2012 at 10:10 am
      You hit the nail on the head.

      “old “medicine man” with nostrums on the back of a stage coach” are the way forward.

      At least you knew where you were in those days and it would save the expense of the PhDs, MDs, and MPHs.

      1. Yes, David, To get ORI to do their job one needs a sludge hammer. I gave them a falsification slam dunk case and John Dahlberg told me that he doesn’t have to follow the rules. Later I subbmitted the same case to the NIA and OHRP agreed with me.
        I a lawsuit on the case we deposed several doctors and not one told the truth.
        In short, I functioned as I citizen attorney general but ORI did not have the courage
        to do their job, but OHRP did. If interested you can see the case at the OHRP web site:
        July, Hebrew rehab, U of Maryland,Wash U.

        ORI should dump their PhDs and get JDs like OHRP has

        1. I do not get your point, Ed. The OHRP letters you cited and said was “the same case” (found at ) deal only with (1) failure to disclose reasonably foreseeable risks. (2) failure to provide subjects with significant new findings about these risks developed during the course of the research, and (3) failure to report unanticipated problems, i.e., increased falling to the pocketed side and the associated risk of possible fractures. These are not issues that would fall under ORI authority for falsification of research.

          ORI has a whole set of JDs assigned to ORI in the Office of General Counsel, Public Health Service.

  2. Congratulations, RW! People are waking up to the idea that retracting fraudulent or sloppy research is a responsibility of all authors, and fulfilling promises to clean up the scientific record is an obligation of those who are found at fault.

    Many years ago I had an advisor who said things like, “My job is just to put it out there. Let other people prove it wrong if they can.” It made me mad, because he was so sloppy. He had no concept of self-policing, or of doing his darnedest to be sure something was as right as he could make it before he submitted it. He was all about publishing anything that he could slip past the gatekeepers, because he didn’t take the possibility of retraction seriously. I’m glad to see that some people are realizing they have some old chores to complete. Those chores have been waiting around way too long, but better late than never.

    Yay, RW, for being part of the solution.

  3. On 4/30/12 (American date), Dahlberg, John E (HHS/OASH) wrote:
    Dear Clare Francis,

    “ORI cannot provide assistance regarding your concern that a 1993 paper, for
    which a retraction was requested in an ORI Federal Register notice, has been
    corrected rather than retracted. Such decisions are appropriately made by
    editors who are generally in a better position to evaluate the significance
    of the questioned findings in the context of both the paper and the
    Journal’s purpose. This paper was published 19 years ago, and it’s
    relevance to today’s research would be minimal at best given the science
    during this period.”

    My comment is: what science? It was not retracted until just now.

    I was slighlty shocked. The Federal Register is supposed to mean something.
    It should just be an administrative thing to retract in this case.

    The editors can often be conflicted, for example the work under question in their journal is in their field of research.

    I think that John Dahlberg tries quite hard given the resources. He is kind enough to reply.
    I gather from my reading that his work as a virologist was really quite good.

    I hope that a mild embarrassment now will lead some more resources for John and his team.

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