Two years ago, the FASEB Journal retracted a paper that it had initially agreed to correct, after a dean at one of the author’s institutions said that a “well-recognized and top-class fact ﬁnding commission concluded that the publication contains gross ﬂaws.” The retraction of the 2003 paper, as we noted at the time, punctuated a complicated case involving several investigations as well as legal maneuvering.
Now, the journal has retracted the retraction. Here’s the beginning of the notice:
Regarding the article titled, “Molecular analysis of Nogo expression in the hippocampus during development and following lesion and seizure,” by Susan Meier, Anja U. Bräuer, Bernd Heimrich, Martin E. Schwab, Robert Nitsch, and Nicolai E. Savaskan, published in the June 2003 issue of The FASEB Journal (FASEB J., 2003 Jun;17(9):1153—1155; doi:10.1096/fj.02-0453fje). The editors of The FASEB Journal received a letter date June 1, 2011, from Dr. Annette Grüters-Kieslich at Charite—Universitätsmedizin Berlin stating:
“In the year 2009 a series of reproaches in regard to scientific misconduct against Dr. Nicolai Savaskan reached the faculty of the Charite—Universitätsmedizin Berlin.”
“One of the manuscripts affected was published in the FASEB J in the year 2003: Meier S, Bräuer AU, Heimrich B, Schwab ME, Nitsch R, Savaskan NE. FASEB J. 2003 Jun;17(9):1153–5. A well-recognized and top-class fact finding commission concluded that the publication contains gross flaws. A key figure (Figure 14) and the conclusions drawn from it could not be underlined with the corresponding primary data. Therefore, the faculty has requested the senior author Dr. Nicolai Savaskan to retract the publication.”
In light of the “well-recognized and top-class fact finding” commission’s conclusions and the faculty’s recommendation to retract the article, the article was retracted and all versions were removed from the Web site.
Since receiving this communication, Annette Grüters-Kieslich at Charite—Universitätsmedizin Berlin has contacted the journal with an additional letter stating the following:
“We consulted you in writing 1 June 2011 concerning the publication of Meier S. et al, FASEB J 2003 17(9) 1153-5.”
“In a final evaluation of the investigations carried about by reason of the letter stating the underlying facts, we find that these investigations do not proof of intentional falsifications, manipulation of plagiarism in this work.” (sic)
“As a result of our investigations, we correspondingly suggest the recommendation of the Johann Gutenberg University of Mainz to publish a written erratum from the scientist, Dr. Savaskan and Prof. Nitsch, for the correction of the mistakes contained in this publication.” (sic)
In light of the new recommendation by Charite—Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the journal has reinstated the original article with the addition of the following erratum and addendum provided by the authors:
The notice then goes on, in some detail. Excerpts:
We have been informed about a data presentation error in one quantitative data set shown in Figure 14 B in our paper published in FASEB J (2003 Jun;17(9):1153–5. Epub 2003 Apr 8) . There, the actin column for group 3 (lesion group 5DAL) is given larger, i.e. 887.7 a.u. than the original data file with 224.3 a.u. which contains the primary data actin quantification set. Nevertheless, the main conclusion of our paper given in Figure 14 A and C, i.e. the fact that an entorhinal cortex lesion induces upregulation of Nogo-A protein in the hippocampus, is not affected by this display error.
We decided to repeat the experiments given in the original Figure 14 which have been performed in the years 2001–2003.
After describing the methodology and new results, the authors conclude, somewhat emphatically:
From these reproduced and updated experimental results it can be concluded that the findings as reported in the paper in 2003 are valid and still stand. We apologize for any confusion the erroneous display may have caused. However, there is no doubt that the finding of a Nogo-A upregulation following entorhinal cortex lesion as reported in our FASEB J paper from 2003 is based on reproducible mRNA and protein data, and thus is a biological fact.
This has been a complicated case. Among the other developments in the case since mid-2011:
- Savaskan was one of the authors of a Cell paper that was corrected because of a duplicated figure.
- In November 2011, a court ruled in one of a few cases brought by the various parties. Here’s the PDF, if German-speaking readers would like to translate for us.
- In June 2012, there was another court decision in the case.
- In August of last year, the Johannes Gutenberg University, home to one of Savaskan’s collaborators, felt the need to call emails from the main whistleblower in the case “dangerous.”
- In January, Volker Bähr, of Charite’s Office for Good Scientific Practice, sent a note to a number of people involved in the case, as well as Retraction Watch:
1. U. Bräuer, N. E. Savaskan, M. Plaschke, S. Prehn, O. Ninnemann, and R. Nitsch. IG-molecule Kilon shows differential expression pattern from LAMP in the developing and adult rat hippocampus. Hippocampus 10 (6):632-644, 2000.
2. U. Bräuer, N. E. Savaskan, M. Plaschke, O. Ninnemann, and R. Nitsch. Perforant path lesion induces up-regulation of stathmin messenger RNA, but not SCG10 messenger RNA, in the adult rat hippocampus. Anonymous. Anonymous. Neuroscience 102(3):515-526, 2001.
3. U. Bräuer, N. E. Savaskan, M. H. Kole, M. Plaschke, L. M. Monteggia, E. J. Nestler, E. Simburger, R. A. Deisz, O. Ninnemann, and R. Nitsch. Molecular and functional analysis of hyperpolarization-activated pacemaker channels in the hippocampus after entorhinal cortex lesion. FASEB J. 15 (14):2689-2701, 2001.
4. U. Bräuer, N. E. Savaskan, H. Kühn, S. Prehn, O. Ninnemann, and R. Nitsch. A new phospholipid phosphatase, PRG-1, is involved in axon growth and regenerative sprouting. Nat.Neurosci. 6 (6):572-578, 2003.
5. U. Bräuer, N. E. Savaskan, M. Plaschke, O. Ninnemann, and R. Nitsch. Cholecystokinin expression after hippocampal deafferentiation: molecular evidence revealed by differential display-reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Neuroscience 121 (1):111-121, 2003.
6. U. Bräuer, R. Nitsch, and N. E. Savaskan. Identification of macrophage/microglia activation factor (MAF) associated with late endosomes/lysosomes in microglial cells. FEBS Lett. 563 (1-3):41-48, 2004.
were incriminated by Dr. Markus Kühbacher for scientific misconduct. Concerning publications 1, 2, 5 and 6 I have looked into the matter and there is no evidence for fabrication, falsification or plagiarism of the underlying data presented in the paper.
Professor J. Knop, Ombudsman of the Gutenberg University Mainz, looked into incriminations concerning publications 3 and 4. He declared that there is no evidence for fabrication, falsification or plagiarism of the underlying data presented in these papers.
- On February 20, around the same time
a German court ruled forthe Charite settled cases brought by Savaskan and Nitsch, in part agree saying that Grüters-Kieslich had overstepped in her comments to the FASEB Journal, the Charite released a brief statement that studies by two commissions
have not provided evidence of deliberate falsification, manipulation or plagiarism in the investigated work of Dr. Savaskan.
Update, 10 a.m. Eastern, 6/5/13: Clarified “On February 20” sentence; this was a settlement agreement, not a court decision. Also added bullet point “In June 2012” with link to a court decision.