Another odd retraction for alcohol researcher, this time for lack of animal research committee approval

The journal Neuroscience has retracted a 2011 paper by an alcohol researcher from the United Arab Emirates, who apparently conducted some mouse studies without the blessing of his institution’s animal ethics officials. At least, that’s what the retraction notice would have us believe.

The paper in question, “The pre-synaptic metabotropic glutamate receptor 7 “mGluR7” is a critical modulator of ethanol sensitivity in mice,” by Amine Bahi, was published in December 2011 and cited three times (twice by the author), according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. But as the notice explains:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Author.

The author has requested to retract this paper because some of the experiments were performed before receiving the official approval from the Local Animal Research Ethics Committee. One of the conditions of submission of a paper is to declare that the paper must contain experiments that conform to the ethical standards for Neuroscience. The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and apologies are offered to readers of the journal that this was not reported during the submission process.

To be sure, failure to receive ethics approval for animal studies is a retractable offense. But is that really what the notice is saying? Unclear. It seems to imply that Bahi did eventually get approval from the committee but might not have had it when he began his research.

We last wrote about Bahi in July 2011, after coming across a rather bizarre retraction notice involving a paper of his in Psychopharmacology that was pulled for cryptic “legal issues.” That article also covered work on the glutamate receptor and an experimental compound from Novartis, AMN082, that showed promise in the treatment of alcohol abuse.

At the time, Bahi told us that Novartis and Peter Flor, the Swiss scientist who helped develop AMN082, objected to his publication of the data.

We’re wondering if we’re seeing the same situation play out here, and we’ve emailed Bahi for comment.

Meanwhile, we spoke with Stephen Lisberger, editor of Neuroscience, who told us that he learned about a potential problem with Bahi’s paper in a complaint from “an interested individual” he did not identify. We asked him if it was perhaps Flor, but he demurred. He also denied that Novartis had been in contact with him about the paper.

Lisberger said Bahi acknowledged not having full ethics approval, saving him the trouble of having to pursue an inquiry with the author’s institution.

As an editor I am very challenged to investigate allegations of scientific misconduct. … It worked out here in the sense that the author admitted to the problem.

However, Lisberger admitted that the wording of the retraction notice is vague and, ultimately, open to the interpretation that Bahi did in fact receive ethics approval for his experiments at some point. Then he punted:

What you see is what I saw.

Lisberger did seem to indicate that Bahi had provided some backup in his defense, but that the paperwork wasn’t completely convincing.

It’s a little tough to evaluate the material that one gets, with the ability to change material electronically.

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