We’ve had a few unofficial record-holders here at Retraction Watch. The current leader in the retraction column, for example, is Yoshitaka Fujii, who will likely retract 172 papers. He took that record from Joachim Boldt, with just shy of 90.
Today, we’ll take a stab at another record, longest time between publication and retraction. The apparent record holders, at 25 years, are I.E. Swift and V. E. Milborrow, who were at the University of New South Wales in Australia when they published “Retention of the 4-pro-R hydrogen atom of mevalonate at C-2,2′ of bacterioruberin in Halobacterium halobium” in the Biochemical Journal in 1980. Here’s the retraction notice from 2005 (hat tip Jeffrey Furman and colleagues, who noted the retraction in a paper earlier this year):
The recent discoveries of Rohmer et al.  have established that mevalonate is a precursor of terpenoids such as sterols and rubber, biosynthesized in the cytosol of plants, while pyruvate and glyceraldehyde phosphate are the precursors of terpenoids synthesized within chloroplasts. Both pathways produce isopentenyl diphosphate (IPP) as the building block of terpenoids, and some of it can enter chloroplasts and become incorporated into isoprenoids. Mevalonate is incorporated into isoprenoids in very low yields by intact isolated chloroplasts , but pyruvate and IPP are incorporated at a considerably higher rate.
These observations led us to re-examine some of the results reported earlier on the incorporation of stereospecifically tritiated mevalonates into a range of carotenoids. When the experiments were repeated, we failed to obtain incorporation of mevalonate into the compounds sought, and therefore we deduce that the original claims are not supported. We therefore withdraw our earlier conclusions about the biosynthesis of lutein, peridinin, diadinoxanthin, neoxanthin and bacterioruberin [3–7].
1 Rohmer, M. (1999) The discovery of a mevalonate independent pathway for isoprenoid biosynthesis in bacteria, algae and higher plants. Nat. Prod. Rep. 16, 565–574
2 Milborrow, B. V. and Lee, H.-S. (1998) Endogenous biosynthetic precursors (+)-abscisic acid. VI. Carotenoids and ABA are formed by the “non-melvanate” triose-pyruvate pathway in chloroplasts. Aust. J. Plant Physiol. 25, 507–512
3 Swift, I. E. and Milborrow, B. V. (1981) Stereochemistry of allene biosythesis and the formation of the acetylenic carotenoid diadinoxanthin and peridinin (C37) from neoxanthin. Biochem. J. 199, 67–74
4 Swift, I. E. and Miborrow, B. V. (1981) Stereochemistry of α, β and γ ring formation in bacterial C50 carotenoids. J. Biol. Chem. 256, 11607–11611
5 Milborrow, B. V., Swift, I. E. and Netting, A. G. (1982) Stereochemistry of hydroxylation of the carotenoid lutein in Calendula officinalis. Phytochemistry 21, 2853–2857
6 Swift, I. E., Milborrow, B. V. and Jeffrey, S. W. (1982) Formation of neoxanthin, diadinoxanthin and peridinin from [14C]zeaxanthin by a cell-free system from Amphidinium carterae. Phytochemistry 21, 2859–2864
7 Swift, I. E. and Milborrow, B. V. (1980) Retention of the 4-pro-R hydrogen atom of mevalonate at C-2,2 of bacterioruberin in Halobacterium halobium. Biochem. J. 187, 261–264
The paper has been cited 7 times, according to Thomson Scientific — all before the 2005 retraction, and all but once by the original authors.
We bring this up because long lag times — too long, if you ask us — are the subject of our just-published column in LabTimes, which we called “Delaying the Inevitable?” As we point out, 25 years is clearly an outlier, and so is 17, which was how long it took in another case we recently covered. But the lag is growing, a 2011 study found, and while there are a number of reasons this could be true — including that editors are “reaching back” further into history, which could mean it’s a temporary phenomenon — it still seems like reason for concern.
Read the whole column here, and let us know what you think.