Failure to reproduce result leads to disputed retraction

BJ_logoA research group in Scotland has retracted a paper in the Biochemical Journal after failed attempts to reproduce a key finding of the study.

Here’s the notice:

This paper is being retracted at the request of the authors. Three members of the laboratory of the last-named author have tried subsequently to reproduce the result reported in Figure 2B of the paper, but have been unable to do so. Consequently, the authors no longer consider the conclusion that interleukin-1 is able to activate the full-length catalytic subunit of the protein kinase Tpl2 when it is co-transfected into IRAK1-null HEK293 cells that stably express the interleukin-1 receptor to be correct. All of the authors, apart from the first author, have agreed to this retraction.

Margaret J. Stafford, Eamon McManus, Dionissios Baltzis, Mark Peggie, Philip Cohen (MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit, College of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, UK)

The paper has been cited 11 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. The first author was Hosea Handoyo, who was a graduate student at Dundee at the time the paper was published in 2009.That year, he won the Golden Spatula Award,

awarded annually to the undergraduate in Holland deemed to have carried out the best research project during the year.

Hosea was an undergraduate student at Han University, the Netherlands, but carried out his undergraduate research project in Philip Cohen’s laboratory during the academic year 2007-2008.

Handoyo later went missing for a week in February 2011, but was found by police, according to a news story short on details. Cohen tells us:

Mr Hosea Handoyo did not agree to the retraction because he maintains that his results are correct.  However,  several people in my lab were later unable to repeat a key result he had obtained, and so I became convinced that the result was not correct.  I therefore decided it was important to withdraw the paper, in order to ensure that other investigators did not waste their own time and money trying to repeat this experiment.  Mr Handoyo was not permitted to submit a thesis and returned to Indonesia a couple of years ago without a Ph.D. and without any other qualification.

We’ve tried to contact Handoyo, and will update with anything we learn.

Update, 12 p.m. Eastern, 12/22/13: Handoyo tells us:

Couple of months back, my previous Professor told me that he was going to retract it and I had to agree to with my previous Professor choice of action as I have no energy left to discuss it further. Nevertheless, I have no idea that I have to sign the notice. I am done with this fight. I prefer to leave the past behind and focus on the future. Until now, I have lost much of time and energy in the past years and have nothing really to gain anymore.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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7 thoughts on “Failure to reproduce result leads to disputed retraction”

  1. The “Hogeschool van Arnhem en Nijmegen” (HAN) is not a university. It is what Germans would call a Fachhochschule or the English (in the past) would call a Polytechnic. The “Golden Spatula Award” is an award for students at this type of institution; therefore the sentence “undergraduate in Holland deemed to have carried out the best research project during the year” is misleading. There is also another error in that sentence: Arnhem and Nijmegen are as much in Holland as Dundee is in England.

    Perhaps they should retract this newsitem as well?

      1. Arnhem and Nijmegen are in the Netherlands, but not in Holland (which properly only refers to the northwestern part of the Netherlands).

  2. Doing the right thing here. The reproducibility problem in science would disappear if labs were to report what happens when they fail to reproduce their own work, as has occurred in this instance.

  3. So about 3 nanoseconds of looking reveals what is probably a more likely reason for wanting this paper out of the literature…
    For those not wanting/able to download the image, Fig 4B and Fig 5 have a shared image, despite different experimental conditions. Perhaps the journal could update the retraction notice to indicate this?

    1. The retraction notice called attention to Fig 2B. Yet you have identified clear fakery in Figs 4 and 5. Are we supposed to assume that the same student was solely responsible for both problems? I think we have to assume that none of the coauthors looked at the data closely enough to spot the duplication prior to publication.

      1. Thanks for uploading the figs. You are right and I should not have taken the written word as fact! Certainly Biochem J needs to be more open with the reason for retraction.
        Doesn’t anyone look at the original data nowadays when they prepare a manuscript?

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