Henry IV, part 2: No retraction necessary, say some authors of royal head identification paper

Henry IV, via Wikimedia
Henry IV, via Wikimedia

Last week, we reported that some of the authors of a 2010 paper in the BMJ claiming to have identified Henry IV’s head thought the study should be retracted based on new evidence. Some of the other authors have now responded to that call for retraction, which appeared on the BMJ’s site alongside the paper.

Philippe Charlier, the corresponding author of the original paper, and five of the original paper’s 15 co-authors conclude after reviewing the evidence that


…at the anthropological, historical and statistical levels, the many arguments allow to come to the conclusion, beyond reasonable doubt, that the head is authentic and belongs to Henri IV. Recent genetic analyses [6] clearly question the heterogeneity of the genetic heritage within the Bourbon/Orleans family.

And that, they write, quoting COPE guidelines, means that:

…no argument is sufficient to ask for a retraction of the BMJ article as it meets none of the criteria: scientific misconduct, plagiarism, serious errors, and duplicate/concurrent publishing (self-plagiarism) [15].

Their final word:

Controversy is part of any important scientific publication, and particularly frequent for medico-historical identifications. But passions should be left aside in favor of objectivity and rigor. In any cases, a researcher has to accept that he will never be able to convince some skeptics colleagues in the case of a multidisciplinary study.

Charlier told us yesterday that the BMJ would be offering a solution — a Solomonic compromise, perhaps? —  in the next few days.

Update, 5 p.m. Eastern, 11/6/13: Hervé Maisonneuve has some questions for the authors of this paper (in French).

6 thoughts on “Henry IV, part 2: No retraction necessary, say some authors of royal head identification paper”

  1. As I said at the time, there should be no retraction. I’m glad the remaining authors are sticking to it.

    The call for a retraction is based on evidence that people (alive today) who claim to be descended from Henry IV are not genetically linked to the head-in-question. Well, blow me down. It seems as if marital fidelity and suppositious descent are not to be relied on.

  2. Hello,
    this situation seems strange.. The 2010 BMJ paper had 20 authors, (including honorary authors I suppose). The BMJ October 28 letter asking for retraction was signed by 2 of the authors (number 18 and 20), and 2 others experts who did not sign the 2010 BMJ paper. The BMJ October 31 letter was sign by the first author and 5 other experts who did not sign the 2010 paper.
    There are 17 authors who are mute!

  3. @Dan Zabetakis and the authors are right. Their data and methodology have not been questions, as far as I can see. Whether the conclusion is tenable or not in the light of new evidence is another matter. This paper is distinct from cases where there are major issues with methodology and/or data, which crop up on RW week after week and on PubPeer and other online forums.

  4. The situation seems more and more absurd. Apparently there is no case for a retraction within accepted ethical guidelines (those by COPE or any other that I am aware of). Let BMJ publish a peer-reviewed paper by those who disagree with the original paper. So why is there even debate about a retraction? Even the statement “BMJ would be offering a solution” is just weird. No problem in need of a solution was pointed out (unless you count “doing science” as a problem).

    Charlier correctly cites COPE guidelines. It may be relevant for this discussion that COPE has tacitly changed – nay, abolished – its complaint procedure. After trying to contact COPE for two weeks without success in order to submit a complaint against COPE member journals, I finally was able to contact COPE chair Ginny Barbour, who wrote the following:

    “Please note that for complaints we are in the process of amending this. COPE will consider complaints against member journals. However, our role is primarily to provide advice for member editors and journals and to promote a better understanding of publication ethics overall. *We do not investigate complaints per se*, and as we have no statutory oversight of journals we aim to facilitate a dialogue between the two parties in
    response to the concerns raised.”

    And later: “We take seriously complaints against member journals and aim to help revolve them. However, we are not a statutory body, but rather a membership organisation, and the reassessment of the process of handling complaints, *which was approved by COPE council*, is in line with that.”

    And Iratxe Puebla, identified per email signature as “Complaints Officer”, wrote me the following: “COPE will therefore provide assistance on how authors/readers can raise concerns with editors and publishers, and will aim to provide advice and education for publishers and editors on how to oversee the evaluation and response to concerns raised about their journals(s). *COPE will not itself investigate specific complaints*.”

    Puebla also wrote:
    “If you have any queries about the process outlined above, please do let us know.”

    Indeed I did have queries! I asked Puebla as well as Barbour repeatedly for documentation laying out COPE’s amended “complaint procedures”. No response.

    COPE still on its web site has written guidelines according to which COPE does promise to handle complaints (http://publicationethics.org/contact-us, http://publicationethics.org/files/FlowchartComplaints_rev_July172012_ComplaintsOfficer_0.pdf). Now, according to Barbour, the COPE council has approved a “reassessment of the process of handling complaints” with the results that COPE will not “investigate complaints” any more.

    Barbour’s statement that COPE cannot investigate complaints because it is not a “statutory body” is incomprehensible. The question is whether the ultimate role of COPE is to give cover to journal editors and publishers to do as they see fit without providing any recourse to those who are harmed by editors’ decisions – whether they decide to falsely retract an honorable paper, or to give cover to a proven fraudulent publication. This development is deeply disturbing.

  5. This story is quite confusing on the French scene, and an opposing article was published in Le Figaro by the historian Philippe Delorme who published a book against this case.

    I clearly showed that 18 of the 20 co-authors don’t want to confirm the BMJ paper, including C Keyser, who was named ‘guarantor’ in the BMJ paper. I cannot prove that the paper was faked, but 18 co-authors don’t accept to sign that research integrity was fine. I added the data on poor authroship on http://www.h2mw.eu/redactionmedicale/2014/01/je-me-suis-%C3%A9mu-plusieurs-fois-dune-publication-de-d%C3%A9cembre-2010-sur-lidentification-de-la-t%C3%AAte-de-henri-iv-et-des-avis.html

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