Weekend reads: Seralini GMO-rat study retraction aftershocks; NEJM investigates conflicts of interest

booksAnother busy week at Retraction Watch. Here’s a sampling of items about scientific publishing, research misconduct, and related issues from around the web:

12 thoughts on “Weekend reads: Seralini GMO-rat study retraction aftershocks; NEJM investigates conflicts of interest”

  1. 1) In response to Skeptical Scalpel: Is it not possible that new journals are appearing every day because the scientific community is simply tired of the “establishment” and the flawed peer review that takes place in so-called impact factor and/or peer reviewed journals, especially of the top science publishers? Many would say that diversity is important for survival. 10 years ago, this would have been shot down as total nonsense in science publishing. Nowadays, with such high volatility, alternatives might not be such a bad idea. Frankly, I have seen so many problems recently (last 1-2 years) in some of the top level journals in my field of study, all with beaming IFs, that seeking alternative locations for publishing is now a matter of survival, not desire.
    2) The formal decision by PLoS journals is a bold, but limited, move. I wonder how the number of submissions will drop in response to this new requirement. Someone should monitor these numbers or ask PLoS to make such data available, because such a policy is a formalized barometer of fear. Asking to sign a document that would guarantee that data sets be available in the future in the case of a dispute, and asking authors to make data sets available upon submission of a manuscript are two extremely different concepts with very widely-ranging responses. In the former case, authors engaging in misconduct could still risk publishing the paper and hope that no queries would arise, and then take advantage of the IF score and of the “high profile” publication of a PLoS journal. In the latter case, severe scrutiny would make even the most confident of scientists run for the exit even before they entered the establishment. So, why has PLoS opted for the soft-toned former option?

  2. For those who have not followed the story, the investigation into whether there was an undisclosed conflict of interest in a 2010 N Engl J Med study appears to be part of a wider patient safety scandal that has recently unfolded in the USA. In this scandal, it is alleged that a committee member of the US National Quality Forum (NQF) took kickback payments from a major manufacturer of a chlorhexidine-alcohol skin antiseptic to have its particular formulation (a certain percentage of components that was unique to this company’s product) recommended in the NQF’s Safe Practices Guidelines. The scandal apparently recently surfaced when the US Justice Department settled a whistleblower lawsuit in which it levied a significant fine against the company.

    More comprehensive coverage is here, and this is interesting reading:



    Colleagues and I recognized quite a while ago that there is something ‘fishy’ about the widespread recommendations for ‘chlorhexidine’ in skin antisepsis. The often-purported “evidence for chlorhexidine in skin antisepsis” is largely based on a misattribution of clinical trial outcomes — and a concomitant misinterpretation of evidence — that has become very widespread and assumed very large-scale proportions in the medical literature. This is a completely different aspect from what is the subject of the scandal, and probably unrelated, but it is regarding the same type of poduct and therefore constitutes an interesting coincidence. Whether and to what extent this misinterpretation is commercially driven is unknown to me. I left a comment and some references on the second (Wachter’s World) of the two web pages mentioned above.

  3. I am not a copyright lawyer so I got a small question to the community about the Séralini paper. The authors transferred the copyright to the Publisher. If the Publisher decides to retract the paper, what happens with the copyright? In principle a retraction is an “unpublication”, i.e. an unmaking of the publishing contract which originally included the copyright transfer.

    Would it be possible for the author (Séralini in this case) to resubmit and republish his paper elsewhere?

    1. “Would it be possible for the author (Séralini in this case) to resubmit and republish his paper elsewhere?”
      From a scientific point of view, yes. Resubmission elsewhere is an option if the authors consider the work to be valid.
      Technically, the copyright situation in this case might be legally complex. But I don’t think anyone would think to pursue it.

  4. Re: PLOSOne

    ” I wonder how the number of submissions will drop in response to this new requirement. ”

    It depends on how onerous they make it. I looked up the new policy. It is really not clear how they will implement it. Some depositories are well known and not a problem (e.g. Genbank). But is it their intention that I have to find some place to submit the data for my 10 graphs and a table? PlosOne is already very bitchy about figures. If they add even more unnecessary complications, then submission will indeed fall off.

    1. Dan,

      I agree with some of your points.

      As a very recent PLoS author (yesterday) – yes they are very “strict” about figures.

      It is not clear how PLoS will implement the policy.

      If journals [and I hope every journal will adopt PLoS’ policy] make data deposits “onerous,” submissions will indeed drop off.

      For the last point, that’s a good thing – if you can’t provide good back-up for your data, you shouldn’t be publishing.

      I for one am very keen for a requirement that the original (uncropped, unPSed) images for gels, westerns, etc. be placed in supplemental results. I don’t think this is onerous, even if there are 10 graphs in the paper.

      Plus, it would ELIMINATE most, not all, of the gel manipulation cases that ORI and RW deal with on a daily basis. Of course, nothing to stop a determined falsifier from manipulating the original image too, but it is very hard to remove all traces of Photoshop manipulation and the requirement for the supplemental archive should be that there must be NONE.

      1. OK – perhaps this posts has been flagged here on RW before. If not, it should be:


        Turns out PLos is indeed considering the “require – and publish – the raw image files for every composite figure” notion.

        “Journals could be doing more to ensure data integrity. At PLOS Biology we screen all images in accepted articles for obvious signs of manipulation and if we see any cause for concern we ask for original files. Some commenters have suggested we should require – and publish – the raw image files for every composite figure, and this is an idea we’ll discuss internally and with our editorial board. Please do let us know if you have strong views on the desirability of this, as we balance the burden on authors with the potential benefit to readers.”

        LET’S DO THIS!

        1. “LET’S DO THIS!”

          Nope, don’t agree.

          It’s a case of making things more difficult for the 99.9% in order to deter the 0.01%. It’s already difficult enough to put together a paper and get all the figures together (especially for PlosOne), with all the references in order, without them adding unnecessary steps. I for one, would publish elsewhere.

          1. OK – agree to disagree.

            The problem is the 0.1% or 0.01% are discrediting the whole enterprise. And, as Dr. Bloom pointed out in her blogpost, these investigations of the 0.1% or 0.01% can consume years. Better to deter misconduct by requiring everyone to post raw gel images. You already have these and it literally will take less than a minute to upload – IMO not onerous.

            Given where we are at I call this a necessary step and although PLoS may lose some authors, I believe they will gain more.

            I personally welcome the opportunity to publish my gels in a journal that requires transparency of all its authors in terms of the raw data.

            Again, to each his or her own.

    2. Yes, Dan, it is their intention that you provide the raw data (preferably in spreadsheet form) for all graphs, and all raw images (western blots, photomicrographs). Not for every experiment you ever performed, but for every experiment that ended up in the paper.

      Not only is this onerous for authors, but reviewers and editors are expected to verify the raw data submission as part of the review process.

      (It is probably a good idea to do this. Just last week I was advocating in my own lab that whenever a paper is submitted, the author should have to make an archival copy of all the data that was used, in case of future questions. In my case, this was prompted by two incidents of wanting to re-use a figure in a talk or review article [with permission of course] and being unable to find a high quality original. However, I’m not sure I want to be a pioneer at PLOS.)

  5. Thank you for linking to the Tyrone Hayes article. It’s long but boy what an eye-opener (even to those among us who think they’ve seen it all). Two telling excerpts:

    “In early 2003, Hayes was considered for a job at the Nicholas School of the Environment, at Duke. He visited the campus three times, and the university arranged for a real-estate agent to show him and his wife potential homes. When Syngenta learned that Hayes might be moving to North Carolina, where its crop-protection headquarters are situated, Gary Dickson—the company’s vice-president of global risk assessment, who a year earlier had established a fifty-thousand-dollar endowment, funded by Syngenta, at the Nicholas School—contacted a dean at Duke. According to documents unsealed in the class-action lawsuits, Dickson informed the dean of the “state of the relationship between Dr. Hayes and Syngenta.” The company “wanted to protect our reputation in our community and among our employees.””

    We ll suspected this kind of thing but to have clear-cut evidence of corporate take-over of academia is something else!

    And this has direct relevance to the Seralini corporate meddling scandal:

    “Fussy critiques of scientific experiments have become integral to what is known as the “sound science” campaign, an effort by interest groups and industries to slow the pace of regulation. David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, wrote, in his book “Doubt Is Their Product” (2008), that corporations have developed sophisticated strategies for “manufacturing and magnifying uncertainty.” In the eighties and nineties, the tobacco industry fended off regulations by drawing attention to questions about the science of secondhand smoke. Many companies have adopted this tactic. “Industry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policy,” Michaels wrote. “In field after field, year after year, conclusions that might support regulation are always disputed. Animal data are deemed not relevant, human data not representative, and exposure data not reliable.”” etc.

    Read the whole thing!

  6. “In 2005, Ford [Syngenta PR person] made a long list of methods for discrediting him [Tyrone Hayes]: “have his work audited by 3rd party,” *“ask journals to retract,”* “set trap to entice him to sue,” “investigate funding,” “investigate wife.””

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