Author retracts FASEB Journal paper for data reuse

fasebThe FASEB Journal has retracted a 2012 paper by a group from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), looking at the role of a tumor-suppressing micro-RNA in pulmonary fibrosis. The retraction suggests the provenance of the data are in question, and we learned details of what went wrong.

Here’s the notice, which, sadly, is behind a $12-per-day paywall:

The article, “miR-31 is a negative regulator of pulmonary fibrosis,” by Shanzhong Yang, Na Xie, Huachun Cui, Sami Banerjee, Edward Abraham, Victor J. Thannickal, and Gang Liu (FASEB J. 2012 Sep;26(9):3790–9. doi: 10.1096/fj.11-202366), has been retracted at the corresponding author’s request because it contained previously published data. All versions of the article have been removed from the journal’s web site and the authors regret any inconvenience caused by the retraction.

The paper’s fifth author, Edward Abraham, is a big name, having served as the chair of the UAB department of medicine. In May 2011, Abraham became the dean of the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Although the retraction notice is vague, the issue involved the reuse of a control figure, according to senior author Gang Liu:

The experiments represented in Figure 9 in this retracted paper were designed to share the control groups with an earlier study from us (Figure 9, American Journal of Pathology, 2012, 180(2):484-93), because of similar nature of the two studies. Representative micrographs for each group were taken and saved in a common folder. When the manuscript was initially prepared, representative micrographs for the shared control groups that had been utilized by the AJP paper (Figure 9B-D, Con miR+saline and Con miR+BLM) were inadvertently selected again for this subsequent paper. Another set of representative images for the shared control groups should have been chosen for the paper. I found out this mistake when preparing for a presentation, reviewed this with all authors and informed the editor.

Liu said he intended to resubmit the retracted paper using an appropriate image.

6 thoughts on “Author retracts FASEB Journal paper for data reuse”

  1. This has more to do with journal copyright than science. They’re going to go take new photos of the same slides from the same control animals and make a new figure. Why in the world won’t the journal just let them correct the figure? (Copyright and money.)

  2. As long as the science is ok, let them correct the figure. Seems like an easily correctable screw up to me.

    Are we venturing into retraction overkill territory?

    1. The corresponding author requested the retraction. The move seems to make little sense, so maybe there is a more serious problem with the paper.
      This looks like a Klimt painting on the cover of the journal. I wonder what was the reason for using it.

      1. True, so this might be a case of a corr. author overreacting to a problem? Or maybe in order to appear like there is nothing to hide, the corr. author is pulling the paper? If there is something to hide, maybe pulling it is supposed to stop further investigation into this and other papers? stop the ball from rolling maybe. I dont get it.

        I am just a little worried that this new focus on retractions and misconduct has people overreacting.

    2. With many of these cases, it’s like looking into a room through a keyhole. I heard the backstory about a recent case listed on RW (not this one) and frankly it was incredibly convoluted. Went well beyond the science issues and ventured into personal and political realms. It would make a good movie. But the take away message is that we seldom know the entire story so many decisions, by authors and journals, seem mysterious and illogical.

  3. The explanation given and what actually occurs can be two dramatically different things. It is never, NEVER acceptable to re-use data, even within the same manuscript. Scientists shouldn’t get lazy.

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