Doing the right thing: Authors retract brain paper with “systematic human error in coding”

fronthumneuroA group of Swiss neurologists have lost their 2013 article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience after reporting that their data were rendered null by coding errors.

The article, “Spontaneous pre-stimulus fluctuations in the activity of right fronto-parietal areas influence inhibitory control performance,” purported to find that:

Inhibitory control refers to the ability to suppress planned or ongoing cognitive or motor processes. Electrophysiological indices of inhibitory control failure have been found to manifest even before the presentation of the stimuli triggering the inhibition, suggesting that pre-stimulus brain-states modulate inhibition performance. However, previous electrophysiological investigations on the state-dependency of inhibitory control were based on averaged event-related potentials (ERPs), a method eliminating the variability in the ongoing brain activity not time-locked to the event of interest. These studies thus left unresolved whether spontaneous variations in the brain-state immediately preceding unpredictable inhibition-triggering stimuli also influence inhibitory control performance. To address this question, we applied single-trial EEG topographic analyses on the time interval immediately preceding NoGo stimuli in conditions where the responses to NoGo trials were correctly inhibited [correct rejection (CR)] vs. committed [false alarms (FAs)] during an auditory spatial Go/NoGo task. We found a specific configuration of the EEG voltage field manifesting more frequently before correctly inhibited responses to NoGo stimuli than before FAs. There was no evidence for an EEG topography occurring more frequently before FAs than before CR. The visualization of distributed electrical source estimations of the EEG topography preceding successful response inhibition suggested that it resulted from the activity of a right fronto-parietal brain network. Our results suggest that the fluctuations in the ongoing brain activity immediately preceding stimulus presentation contribute to the behavioral outcomes during an inhibitory control task. Our results further suggest that the state-dependency of sensory-cognitive processing might not only concern perceptual processes, but also high-order, top-down inhibitory control mechanisms.

But according to the notice:

The authors and the journal wish to retract the 12 March 2013 article cited above.

While applying the same analyses to another dataset, the authors discovered that a systematic human error in coding the name of the files had been made during the extraction of the EEG template topographic maps best differentiating the two experimental conditions at the single subject level. Because the subsequent processing steps were based on these EEG maps, this error has ultimately modified the final result of the paper, which is therefore not correct. For this reason, the authors request to withdraw the article.

All the authors concur with this retraction and sincerely regret any inconvenience this may have caused to the reviewers, editors, and readers of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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