Chopping broccoli: Researchers lose paper on florets after readers raise questions

b&mclWith apologies to Dana Carvey, Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters has chopped a 2012 paper on the molecular constituents of broccoli florets after readers evidently were forced to do the job of reviewers and point out fatal flaws in the study.

The article, “Two novel bioactive glucosinolates from Broccoli (Brassica oleracea L. var. italica) florets,” came from a group in South Korea and has yet to be cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. But according to the retraction notice, after publication critics pointed out serious problems with the work. To wit:

Concerning the above-mentioned paper, there were serious and severe comments from the readers as follows.

Glucosinolates (GLs) occurring in broccoli have been subjected to intense research for many years, and generally broccoli florets are known to mainly contain methionine-derived GLs such as 4-methylsulfinylbutyl GL and tryptophan derived glucosinolates such as 3-indolylmethyl GL (Bennett et al., 2004). We agree with the authors that search for additional GLs even in well investigated crops is relevant. But considering the aim of the research (‘to isolate and characterize glucosinolates from Brassica italica florets using different isolation techniques’, p. 5556) and the surprising structures reported we find it disappointing that none of the standard GL analysis methods was applied. And we wonder why a protocol employing a cation exchange material was selected for this purpose, apparently without testing the conventional (and logical) use of an anion exchange material.

After many discussions, it was decided that the authors were unable to answer all of the questions raised by the readers (particularly in relation to the structural elucidation of the reported compounds). Therefore, as the Asian Editor, I have decided to retract the above manuscript. The authors acknowledge their mistake and have offered their apologies to the readers.

Now, we’re by no means experts in this area — although we both are quite fond of broccoli and its cruciferous cousins — but we know enough to ask this: If a manuscript purports to analyze a particular chemical makeup of broccoli, shouldn’t it really show evidence of that the “standard” methods of analysis were in fact employed? We’re as big fans of post-publication peer review as anyone, but that doesn’t mean pre-publication peer reviewers should abdicate their responsibilities. It’s nice of the authors to apologize. Maybe, however, the reviewers and editors also owe the readership a “sorry!”

13 thoughts on “Chopping broccoli: Researchers lose paper on florets after readers raise questions”

  1. stuff like this provides even stronger the argument for disclosure of peer reviewers, no? would folks try a little harder if they knew that their reputations were at stake?

    1. The leading plant science journals published by Elsevier and Springer are FULL of scientific disasters. Despite formal notices about the serious gaffes, including figure manipulation, duplication, seriously bad science and basic errors exist in reporting data, methodology and the literature. I am estimating, as a plant scientist, that at least 20-30% of the papers published in plant science journals by these two publishers require an expression of concern, at least. I will not list the specific journals here, because reports have been launched to at least 6 journals, all with respectable Impact Factors (1.0-3.5), at least for the plant sciences. And how many of those deserve retraction? Well that is going to depend on the people that approved the publication of the papers in the first place. Therefore, we are actually asking editors who failed their academic and editorial responsibilities to take responsibility for their errors? This is almost never going t happen. That is why post-publication requires an aggressive thrust forward, to associate the lack of quality not only with sloppy scientists, but also with sloppy editors and an equally sloppy publisher. I applaud the journal for issuing the retraction, but echo the opinion given above that the editors and publisher are equally responsible for completing poor or maybe even non-existent peer review. We should, I recomend, as part of the post-publication pper review process, INSIST that the publisher also publically disclose the peer reviewer reports, without any manipulation. This way, the plant science community also has the hard-core evidence that the editorial and peer review process, at least the traditional one, has failed abismally. Then, the publishers, peers and editors would be held more accountable for letting errors pass through. Just today, I indicated to a prominent scientist who is on the board of one of the Springer journals, that she has the collective responsibility of reigning in the other editors, placing pressure on them to reform the system quickly, and seek justice by the publisher. Either that, or quit the editor board. There is nothing more irritating, to b honest, than seeing the elitist status quo taking laurels for the IF of the journal, but then cowering away when it comes to revealing their incompetence. It’s an embarassment, frankly-speaking, to the plant science community. As I say, and I speak with great confidence here, the plant science literature, especially in journals by Elsevier and Springer, is in a total state of disarray, albeit with varying levels of problems. The amazing thing is that the editorial status quo desperately wants to ignore it while the research status quo, very broadly, doesn’t want to “get involved” for fear that it might have negative repurcussions on their positions and/or career. Thus, although the authors did in fact not conduct good or complete science, the editors and publishers also failed abismally in the peer review process. Incidentally, I love broccoli, but prefer Brussel sprouts more. PS: why are the names of the “publication ciritics” not listed? How can the plant science community trust such retraction decisions when the publisher and journal does not openly disclose the professionals’ names? In this case, anonimity may hurt the movement for justice in plant science publishing.

        1. It is my belief that the reason some reviewers are there is only to fish for ideas and snatch them from their competitors. One reviewer rejected a manuscript of mine years ago because he found my results “incredible” as they disagreed with repeatedly published lies. How come they were incredible to be published but very credible to be reproduced in his lab and get published under his name? Withe a 400+ publications of his , I can assert that he has made a living from pirating scientists ideas and duplicating their work.
          Is there hope for similarly injured people in academia?

          1. Dear Aceil, I think you have a responsibility here to expose this team. If you have the e-mails and the exact dates of submission, rejection and publication of those ideas by that team led by a BMCL editor, and you are so confident about your claims, then why don’t you go public, make the accusation to the correct authorities and allow the investigation to proceed accordingly? Unfortunately, if we have too many cases like this where scientists allow injustices to go by unpunished, or uninvestigated, then “the others” with their lack of ethics will win. If you are 100% confideence about your claims, you have nothing to fear, so expose the fraud. This is your duty to science.

          2. That was many years ago , when there was no electronic communications. And how can I be 100% confident when the reviewers are blind? . BTW, that was not a BMCL editor.

            My responsibility is to raise concerns about blind peer review and the lack of accountability for misconduct.

          3. Aceil, if it was a blind review, how do you know the reviewer who rejected your paper then reproduced its findings in his lab and got it published?

  2. That is why I can’t be 100% confident. But because I used a new method that had not been published before that time. and incidentally saw how that method was used by that person and published in another journal, I had suspicions. I was very naive and young, it didn’t even occur to me that there was any thing that could be done, It was only after years that I learned that he was a reviewer for that journal.
    I expect to see his name on a fraudsters list sometime soon.

    1. Firstly, I wish to apologise to BMCL. My comment above was based on Aceil’s lack of specific wording. But, the scientific community looks forward to reading about this “fraudster’s list”. By the way, where can we find this list and web-site since I think many of us want to contribute to that list (I hope they have many Gb of space). Aceil, you state “My responsibility is to raise concerns about blind peer review and the lack of accountability for misconduct.” But my advice to you is in order to achieve this, you have to be much more specific. Not quite related to “possible theft” of intellectual property, but a similar negative fall-out. One paper by me and a collaboration group in China was rejected about 10 days ago. One of the reasons for the rejection was that, in their search for literature, which they did quickly after I sent a second complaint e-mail about the tardy peer review, they had just learned about a brand new paper that had been published in a Chinese journal, by another group. Problem is, the first round of “peer review” took 10 months. In those 10 months, due to the lack of professionalism and efficiency of the EIC, who incidentally had lots of time to attend several symposium cheese-and-wine parties, we lost our competitive edge. IN science publishing, we need to have a peer review system that is efficient, free of bias, treated with respect and dealt with within a reasonable amount of time (2-3 months is ample enough). If I had the money, I would sue the EIC and the publisher for professional negligence and for being responsible for our work no longer being the world’s most original for that topic. But because I don’t have the money, justice is not served. So, the only way for the 99% to fight back is through public exposure of this biased and elitist status quo, at least in my field of study. LIke you Aceil, even years after we have suffered negative consequences, we remain the victims while they continue to enjoy their cheese-and-wine parties.

  3. I think the idea of revealing reviewer identities and comments is an interesting one. I do review for a number of journals that publish the reviews alongside my name, and I definitely review differently for those journals. I am less critical. You can take fault with me for that, but I am a junior scientist – and let’s be honest, it is mostly junior scientists that do the heavy lifting with reviewing, at least in my field of biology/medicine – and being too critical of senior scientists in my field would have obvious repercussions. But I would have no problem with having my reviews revealed for any journal if my name wasn’t attached. I actually think this would be a great idea.

    1. Noah, you seem to be very active as a reviewer. Why don’t you suggest this to the editors on the board? You never know… revolutions always start from small acts.

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