Author stalemate in Czech DNA paper leads to retraction

Franz Kafka

Okay, so it’s not quite Kafka, but a group of forensic geneticists from Prague’s Charles University has lost a paper in Folia Biologica (a journal from that famed institution where Kafka studied) over what appears to be a rather Byzantine dispute about authorship and the quality of the data.

The 2010 article, “DNA analysis of ancient skeletal remains” was written by a trio of authors from Charles University’s Department of Anthropology and Human Genetics. According to its abstract:

Non-Governmental Organization Archaia ( carried out the rescue archaeological research at Knezeves near Prague in 1998. Most of dating objects in Knezeves come from the period of Late and Final Bronze Age. The approximately 3,000 years old set, which included 11 human remains from three settlement features, was collected for the study. First, gender was determined according to anthropological characteristics. Ancient DNA from bones was extracted by the phenol-chloroform procedure and N-phenacetylthiazolum bromide reagent. Polymerase chain reaction amplification of AMEL XY, part of amelogenin gene, with subsequent polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis and Short Tandem Repeats analysis followed. DNA profiles of skeletal remains were obtained by the fragmentation analysis of autosomal short tandem repeat markers. Genetic profiles showed us whether individuals from Knezeves were in mutual relationship (parent – descendant). The congruence of results in sex determination supported reliability of genetic methods, which are suitable for sex determination of fragmental and subadult skeletal remains.

But the retraction notice tells a different tale:

Following publication of the report: Eliásová L, Mazura I., Smejtek L.: DNA analysis of ancient skeletal remains, Folia Biologica (Praha), 2010;56(2):47-50, Folia Biologica was notified by Dr. Daniel Vanëk with the request to retract the publication for the reasons of plagiarism (inappropriate use of data and of the intellectual content of a former coauthor, who was eliminated from the published report) and strong accusation that the data are incorrect and do not support the conclusions of the report. Folia Biologica notified the institutions of all authors with the request to carry out an investigation concerning the work leading to the publication. The investigation was conducted at the Faculty of Science, Charles University in Prague, the main institution linked to the reported work.

The investigation concluded that there were no signs of plagiarism or inappropriate use of data, but certainly the input of Dr. Vanëk was inappropriately acknowledged and there were some indications of data over-in-terpretation. Folia Biologica offered the Authors to publish a Correction and Addendum, which appeared in Folia Biologica 2013; 59(1):51.

Folia Biologica was contacted again by Dr. Vanëk with the request to retract the original publication and reject the acknowledgement.

Folia Biologica therefore invited all authors and Dr. Vanëk to settle the dispute. Only the first author of the original publication and Dr. Vanëk accepted the invitation.

This debate pointed out possible inaccuracies of data in the original publication, especially concerning the Father – Son relationship and the frequency of investigated alleles in the studied material. The investigation also showed that Dr. Vanëk was inappropriately removed from the list of authors in the final stages of manuscript preparation.

Folia Biologica requested reexamination of the potentially erroneous or insufficient data with the aim to publish their appropriate correction. One party of the dispute, Dr. Vanëk, agreed to this solution, but the other party stated that the cooperation after almost two years of continuing allegations and investigations was not possible.

Since there is no indication that the situation may be clarified in a foreseeable time frame, and Folia Biologica cannot support the full content of the publication, the original publication as well as the Correction and Addendum are retracted by the journal.

We reached Vanëk by email, and he gave us a bit more information about the dispute. He said he initially had been listed as an author of the manuscript, but that he wanted off the paper when he realized that his coauthors would not correct what he saw as serious flaws with the data.

As I was not successful in forcing the first author to correct the wrong conclusions about the kinship analysis and to re-examine the suspiciously high DNA quantity (together with the DNA extraction process)I asked her to remove my name and all data produced in my lab (DNA [quantization] , STR amplification and capillary electrophoresis with subsequent DNA profiles resulting from data analysis) from the article. [Eliásová] just removed my name and published the data.

Vanëk said he agreed with the journal’s request to try to salvage the article, but that the first author demurred. We reached Eliásová, but she did not seem eager to answer our questions.

2 thoughts on “Author stalemate in Czech DNA paper leads to retraction”

  1. An incredible story about a journal rich with history. I suspect that Mendel will be challenged next. I myself have been the victim of at least 3-6 papers in which my name was removed as co-author, but because the papers were submitted to unscholarly journals listed on the Beall list of predators (, many of which have ethics as visible as the roots of my potted plant, my challenges have fallen on deaf ears. With no financial recourse for a legal challenge, despite having all documents to prove my authorship, and without the possibility fo effectively dealing with trans-national author/journal issues, what choice is one left with except to publish the story in black and white? Straight from the horse’s mouth, so-to-speak…

  2. My work has been plagiarized as well: original idea, project development, many years of initiating overseas collaborations and results. Germanys research culture appears to just promote plagiarists, but not support the originator and unpaid guest-P.I. of interdisciplinary work.

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