“Protracted and unresolved authors dispute” and “striking similarities” lead to two retractions

panafmedjrIt’s been a busy month for retractions at the Pan African Medical Journal (PAMJ) — dedicated to “Better health through knowledge sharing and information dissemination.”

The journal has retracted a 2013 article by a group from Bangalore, India, for plagiarism. And unlike the authors, the editors didn’t mince words.

The paper, “Detection of ESBL among ampc producing enterobacteriaceae using inhibitor-based method,” concluded that:

A mixed type of drug resistance mechanisms seem to operate in the isolates tested. The results of the study indicate that the current CLSI recommended methods to confirm ESBL enzymes by conducting clavulanate synergy tests with ceftazidime and cefotaxime may be insufficient for ESBL detection in clinical isolates of Enterobacteriaceae since these organisms often produce multiple β-lactamses. Inhibitor based method using boronic acid disc test, practical and efficient method that uses current CLSI methodology to detect co- producing ESBL and AmpC β-lactamase is a suitable alternative to test ESBL.

It has been cited once, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s the retraction notice:

We, editors of The Pan African Medical Journal hereby notify readers of the retraction of the article “Detection of ESBL among ampc producing enterobacteriaceae using inhibitor-based method” by Bakthavatchalu S et al. [1] published in 2013. It has come to the attention of the editorial team that this article shares striking similarities with the article “Comparison of the boronic acid disk potentiation test and cefepime-clavulanic acid method for the detection of ESBL among AmpC-producing Enterobacteriaceae.” by Shoorashetty RM et al.[2], published in the Indian Journal of Medical Microbioly [sic] in 2011. An internal investigation has raised sufficient evidence of plagiarism; as such, we retract this article from the literature in accordance with guidelines and best editorial practices from the Committee on Publication Ethics. We apologize to our audience about this unfortunate situation.

How similar are the two papers? A quick check revealed substantial overlap.

From the Shoorashetty article:

The ESBL confirmation method has been established by Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) and is used worldwide. [5] Currently, there are no CLSI-recommended guidelines to detect AmpC β-lactamases. Several methods of phenotypic detection of AmpC β-lactamases are described; however, these methods are labour intensive and subjective, lack sensitivity and/or specificity and cannot be adopted on a routine basis. [6],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13] PCR or multiplex PCR gives satisfactory results, but the test is costly and time consuming, and equipment availability is limited to few laboratories.

The CLSI-recommended phenotypic confirmatory test (PCT) would fail to detect ESBLs in the presence of AmpC, as the latter enzyme is resistant to CA. [8] CA may induce high-level expression of chromosomal AmpC, masking the synergy arising from the inhibition of an ESBL.

And from the retracted paper:

The ESBL confirmation methods have been established by Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) and are used worldwide [7]. Currently there are no CLSI recommended guidelines to detect AmpC β-lactamases. Several methods of phenotypic detection of AmpC β-lactamases are described; however, these methods are labor intensive and subjective, lack sensitivity and/or specificity and cannot be adopted on a routine basis. PCR gives satisfactory results, but it is costlier and time consuming, and equipment availability is limited to few laboratories [815].

The CLSI recommended phenotypic confirmatory test would fail to detect ESBL in the presence of AmpC, as the latter enzyme is resistant to clavulanic acid [10]. Clavulanic acid induces high level expression of chromosomal AmpC β-lactamases, masking the synergy arising from the inhibition of an ESBL. Thus, the coexistence of both ESBL and AmpC β-lactamases in the same strain may result in false-negative tests for the detection of ESBLs [16].

The retracted paper does reference Shoorashetty et al, but only to compare prevalence of relevant isolates.

The PAMJ is retracting “Association between the use of biomass fuels on respiratory health of workers in food catering enterprises in Nairobi Kenya,” by Margaret Keraka, of Kenyatta University, and colleages.

The article found that:

INTRODUCTION:

Indoor air pollution from biomass fuel use has been found to be responsible for more than 1.6 million annual deaths and 2.7% of the global burden of disease. This makes it the second biggest environmental contributor to ill health, behind unsafe water and sanitation.

METHODS:

The main objective of this study was to investigate if there was any association between use of bio-fuels in food catering enterprises and respiratory health of the workers. A cross-sectional design was employed, and data collected using Qualitative and quantitative techniques.

RESULTS:

The study found significantly higher prevalence of respiratory health outcomes among respondents in enterprises using biomass fuels compared to those using processed fuels. Biomass fuels are thus a major public health threat to workers in this sub-sector, and urgent intervention is required.

CONCLUSION:

The study recommends a switch from biomass fuels to processed fuels to protect the health of the workers.

According to the notice:

The editors of the Pan African Medical Journal retract the manuscript above. The manuscript has been the subject of a protracted and unresolved authors dispute. Not all the authors listed in this manuscript consented to the retraction.

The paper has yet to be cited.

9 thoughts on ““Protracted and unresolved authors dispute” and “striking similarities” lead to two retractions”

  1. Another retraction notice that smacks of bias and lack of transparency and detailed information. Which authors exactly did not consent to the retraction? Is it illegal to state those authors’ names? I am sure that they would have liked for their voices to be heard, too. Why can their opinions not be published as part of the retraction notice? After all, this paper is likely going to be dead forever, so let it die in a dignified and “honest” manner. Many months ago, when I first started learning about the depth and breadth of retractions at RW, it was enlightening to see that something was being done to correct the literature. I was pleased to see retractions for serious issues like full duplications, or figure manipulations, or heavy plagiarism. But more and more, I am starting to think that soon there may be a counter-revolution by authors whose papers were retracted, if these publishing entities don’t start getting their act together. Allow me to elaborate. By retracting this paper, in essence, the act itself is labelling all parties as being guilty of something. Yet, it is more than evident that not all the authors are guilty of whatever it is they are being accused of. So why should someone who is potentially innocent be labelled as guilty? If I were one of those authors who truly felt victimized by this retraction, or retraction note, I would start a counter movement to make publishers and editors more accountable for these useless and uninformative retraction notices. I would voice my opinion strongly and publically against all concerned parties. I rarely see the authors of retracted papers coming to comment at RW, unless they comment anonymously, but it’s a shame, because their voices are important if we are to have somewhat of a reconciliation step moving forward. It’s pathetic when the scientific community has to turn to as blog, in this case Retraction Watch, to learn the details of the story. It is the editors’ and publishers’ responsibility to bring to light all the details about a case that leads to a retraction. For the publisher’s, the retraction notice if a lawyer-controlled piece of text that relieves them of their guilt and responsibility and assigns it squarely on the shoulders of the authors, while the editors use the retraction notice to vilify authors, sometimes even unfairly, to save face and their own reputations for goofing up in the so-called “peer-review” process. Those who know me know that I am fiercely critical of scientists but those who know me also know that I am also aggressively in defense of authors who are being unfairly treated by incompetent editors and/or unprofessional publishers. Although I can tell from reading many comments that there is great celebration when a retraction is published, and a lot of ridicule of the ultimate victims, the authors (I know this comment will be hotly contested), usually by the hard-core anti-science, I see things in a more radical, but balanced light, namely that we have the responsibility of holding all parties accountable for the literature, and for the retraction notices, i.e., the authors, their institutes, the editors, and the publishers (and whatever marketing and legal characters back up these notices).

    1. Incidentally, the authors’ affiliations are not all listed at PubMed (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23898361) (click on author information) but are listed on another PubMed site as being form Kenya, the UK and South Africa (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3725321/). It is possible that long-distance relationships can cause misunderstandings in such multinational collaborations. It would be truly interesting to know exactly which author(s) claim(s) to be veritable author(s) and which author(s) did not agree to the retraction notice.

      1. I wonder: Is this case partly/entirely to do with the journal not requiring explicit approval from all authors (not just the word of the corresponding author that everyone agrees) prior to publishing? If so, this practice really has to stop!

    2. I’m sorry but no. If some of the authors are innocent then let them speak out in their own defence with facts. Rather than having someone else make speculations in their defence.

      Bad retraction notices are very unhelpful – but the people who lose out from them are the readers, who are kept in the dark. Not the authors, who generally benefit by keeping readers in the dark.

      1. I disagree for two principal reasons: 1) There is no official means for the disagreeing authors to defend themselves. It is not reasonable to expect one to take to responding to every blog post. RW is great, but it’s by no means a universally recognized authority that all scientists even know of. If the journal doesn’t WANT to publish the author’s they can’t communicate officially. 2) The editors who publish a poor retraction notice are at fault for something, period. If the retraction was caused by their mistake in the first place (and the piece should have never been published), they might actually cover it it up and not let the authors say their piece.

        A third reason: Author 1 submits manuscript with author 2’s name. Author 2 has no clue. Author 2 requests retraction. Author 1 threatens lawsuit if author 2 claims that author 1 submitted it without his knowledge publically. Author 2 knows she’s in the right, but had discussed submitting a paper with author 1 over e-mail, knows that author 1 is a total &^&*!. To avoid a lengthy pain in the butt legal battle, author 2 gives in.

        How do suggest the authors keep everyone in the open? Should everyone with a retraction, potentially one from someone who just threw their name on a paper without even asking, be forced to find every single blog on the internet and respond? Perhaps someone should start, and make ubiquitous, the Journal of Retraction and Correction Notice Explanations. (Yes, I realize that this is a great idea. I’ll take applications for Editor in Chief at rwwatcher1@gmail.com)!

  2. Minimally, retractions should list who agreed and who did not agree to the retraction. Or, all agreed/disagreed.

    Another idea:
    Many journals now go to great lengths (PLoS, BMC etc. journals for ex) to document author contributions, usually simply by initials.

    I think journals could go further and give credit for each figure/table in a paper – downside for falsifiers is that with credit comes blame.

    Some will argue — no doubt — that this is yet another waste of authors’ time. We have heard similar arguments about a proposed requirement to archive raw autorads, westerns etc. I disagree – PLoS journals please followthrough and lead on this.

    In the interim make figure/table credits and archiving raw gels/westerns an option that authors CAN if they wish exercise.

    1. “journals could go further and give credit for each figure/table in a paper”

      I’ve been saying this for a while- and I want the cost of each figure listed as well. In the caption.

      Even just ballpark numbers would help the public understand a little bit more about where their taxes are going.

      1. Figure 1: Cost, 78 grad student sleepless nights. 1531 hours of grad student “voluntary labor.” 2 grad student nervous breakdowns. 1 wedding a grad student didn’t attend. 73.28% of a graduate student’s ego. 3 days of PI hoarseness from yelling at grad student. $625.72 for experimental materials that went into the actual production of the Western blot in Figure 1. $231,098.82 for all of the salaries and experiments that didn’t work. 2 undergrads that still haven’t been located.

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