Dispute over data forces retraction of wasp paper

italinsectlogoAn article published in the Bulletin of the Italian Society of Entomology has been retracted in the wake of a squabble over the ownership of the data.

The 2012 paper, “A contribution to the Ichneumoninae fauna of Sicily (Hymenoptera Ichneumonidae,” was written by Matthias Riedel and Salvatore Tomarchio, and deals with the so-called ichneumon wasps (or flies), a family with some 60,000 member species worldwide and one that, as this Wikipedia entry notes, caught the particular attention of Charles Darwin:

I own that I cannot see as plainly as others do, and as I should wish to do, evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us. There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

The ichneumonidae had Darwin questioning his faith in a benevolent higher power, and this case might leave you scratching your head about the order of things in general.  As the retraction notice states:

We herein joint refer to the publication: Matthias Riedel, Salvatore Tomarchio (2012) A contribution to the Ichneumoninae fauna of Sicily (Hymenoptera Ichneumonidae), Bollettino della Società Entomologica Italiana, 144 (3): 125-135, for properly retract the article according to the “Guidance from the Committee on Publication Ethics” (COPE, 2009). The reasons for invoking the retraction of the subject paper are based on an unethical approach for the use of the primary scientific data sources. in fact, the data taken from Turrisi G.F. collection (full property of Turrisi G.F. and only temporarily stored at Zsm-Zoologische Staatssammlung Munchen, Germany) have been used without the previous permission of the rightful owner and without taking into account the ongoing researches on the same material by G.F. Turrisi, belonging to a well raised project in cooperation with the staff at Zsm, namely with Prof. Klaus Schoenitzer and dr Erich Diller, as stated by official published publication and documented stages attended by Turrisi G.F. at Zsm. Both the Authors, according with Turrisi G.F., agree to invalidate the publication by Riedel & Tomarchio (2012) according the ethic law, in order to establish the rightness for the use of the data and to release the two authors from any responsibility for improper use of the scientific data of Turrisi G.F. entomological collection.

We’re curious about several things in this passage, and have tried to reach some of the people involved for clarification. The first is the notion that the data were only “temporarily stored” at the Munich institute. How might that work? Who actually had ownership of the data?

Another thing is Turrisi’s claim that he had “official published publication” of his work. We think this might be the publication to which the notice refers: “Ichneumon flies from Sicily, with descriptions of new taxa.” It contains this line:

The material is stored in the collection of G.F. TURRISI, and partly (holotypes of the new taxa) in the collection of Zoologische Staatssammlung München, Germany (ZSM).

This document suggests that Turrisi indeed described Sicilian flies first (in pretty enthusiastic detail).

0 thoughts on “Dispute over data forces retraction of wasp paper”

  1. Reading the retraction notice, it sounds like Turrisi wrote it, not the authors. No apology from the authors, but no less than six mentions of Turrisi.

    The temporary storage at the ZSM might have been for study by Schoenitzer and Diller. Apparently they were not the only ones with access to the collection. The authors are getting all the stick, but I’m not sure how fair that is.

  2. “The first is the notion that the data were only “temporarily stored” at the Munich institute.”

    I’m guessing it’s not so much the data that were only temporarily stored at the Munich institute, but rather a collection of specimens (i.e. dead wasps). In other words the statement ‘full property of Turrisi,..’ refers to the Turrisi collection.

    I’m also not sure whether temporarily stored means there is / was indeed only a fixed time frame in mind, or that it means the collection will be stored there indefinitely, but with ownership remaining with Turrisi. Perhaps someone with more experience in the field can tell us how these kinds of collections are usually handled.

    1. You are correct, the “data” are absolutely the specimens.

      The other paper referenced includes the line: “This research was carried out as part of a larger project for a better knowledge of faunistics, taxonomy,distribution, and biogeography of the Sicilian Ichneumonidae, primarily based on the study of the G. F.Turrisi collection (Catania, Italy)”.

      This seems to be their declaration that they are working through the collection. The referenced paper dealt with only 2 tribes of one subfamily in the family Ichneumonidae; they have MUCH more to do if they are to work through the family. There are few people in the world working taxonomically on the ichneumons and all work is necessarily slow, as holotypes have to be borrowed from other museums and private collections (worldwide) for comparisons and literature from all over (most not online) must be found and examined. Therefore, many of the specimens have probably been there for years.

      Turrisi’s collection is almost certainly permanently housed in Catania (probably at the university museum)- as he is a prof at the University of Catania and lent to Munich for these particular experts to work on. .

      I presume what happened is that Riedel and Tomarchio were given access to the collection (for perhaps determining their own specimens). They then published this paper, which probably dealt with their own specimens and other collections, but also must have involved a lot of the material that was in the Turrisi collection and had not yet been examined/determined/published on by Turrisi et al. Since they had no involvement in the collecting/curation of the material and may have not told them how much they would use the material, it likely angered the others (as is entirely justifiable, I would imagine).

      That seems fairly plausible to me, but I could be way off.

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