Nature paper by researcher found to have violated academic integrity retracted

Pankaj Dhonukshe

A 2013 paper in Nature that was among those whose first or last author had committed a “violation of academic integrity,” according to Utrecht University, has been retracted.

Here’s the notice: for “CLASP-mediated cortical microtubule organization guides PIN polarization axis,” whose corresponding author was Pankaj Dhonukshe:

After re-examination of this Letter, concerns with some of the reported data were raised. It was found that two confocal images were near-identical in panels of Figure 3 and two confocal images were re-used in panels of Figure 4, and that some gel images were inappropriately generated by cutting and pasting of non-adjacent bands. Therefore, we feel that the most responsible action is to retract the paper. We sincerely apologize for any adverse consequences that may have resulted from the paper’s publication.

The paper has been cited five times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

In a statement provided to Retraction Watch, Dhonukshe said he “retracts this paper with mixed feelings.” He went on:

  1. Mistakes occurred due to the multistep production of images by several professionals. I admit that those mistakes should not have taken place. This paper has two kinds of mistakes- (i) missing white lines between the cut-pasted gel bands due to unawareness about guidelines regarding white lines (8x) and (ii) erroneous image duplication (2x). The ‘near identical panel’ wording has been added without taking my consent and which was also not mentioned in Utrecht University Technical Committee’s report.
  2. Extensive rebuttals had been provided to Utrecht University and to Nature responding to the raised issues and validating the reported findings by reconstruction of original gel data and repeating the experiments. Despite this I have not been provided a feasible ‘corrigendum’ option by Utrecht University and Nature. Utrecht University said the paper falls below their quality standards and Nature said as Ben Scheres wanted to retract the paper and as he was the head of the lab while the work was carried out, Nature values his decision as coauthor more than my decision as a corresponding author of the paper. Based on Utrecht University’s advice and Scheres’s decision Nature gave me two options: (i) either to agree with retraction or (ii) not to agree with retraction with my name flagged. I conveyed to Nature as no option was left I agree to retract the paper following Utrecht University’s (forced) advice. This happened during a nontransparent Scientific Integrity investigation in the period April 2013 – February 2014. Utrecht University took a decision ‘culpable careless’ in September 2013 and later changed it radically after aggressive appeal by the complainant. Utrecht University decided that ‘fabrication’ must have taken place and academic integrity was violated. I strongly oppose to this decision. This second decision is baseless and speculative.
  3. The mistakes in presentation and forced retraction may not lead to throw away the research and findings that contribute towards the knowledge. I view retraction as taking back the delivered product that has failed quality checks for some parts and republish it after rechecking the quality and not that due to some mistakes and failure of quality checks (not influencing the main findings) all research work related to that should be trashed. Otherwise scientists (as being human beings prone for errors) should not publish anything unless the institutes that force the retractions also perform the pre-submission quality controls guaranteeing the publication to remain as Holy Grail. Reconstruction of data and experimental repetitions in form of extensive rebuttals provided to Utrecht University validated the reported findings. Further, the self-refining nature of science should be able to further test the finding ‘Clasp-mediated cortical microtubules guide PIN-polarization axis’ for its eventual approval or dismissal.
  4. I stand with the findings and once possible I shall republish them after further rechecking.

Dhonukshe also provided us with a list of the procedural errors Utrecht and the National Board for Research Integrity (acronym LOWI in Dutch) allegedly made in their investigation. And he produced an explanation of the errors made in the Nature paper.

Please see an update on this post.

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4 thoughts on “Nature paper by researcher found to have violated academic integrity retracted”

  1. The information in the last retraction watch post indicated a number of other papers had been found to have manipulations (by the Utrecht University investigation). What is happening with those papers? A corrigendum? According to PD he was not even an author on some of these papers.

  2. Regardless of whether these were intentional manipulations or honest mistakes, the degree of ineptitude is extreme. For the case of fabrication, he has done a very poor job of hiding the manipulations. And in the case of honest mistakes, there are so many of them that it is surprising he can even tie his shoes, let alone do science.

  3. One can only guess what “reconstruction of [original gel] data” pertains. The original data itself should all be there without the need to “reconstruct” it. So if I interpret Donukshe correctly, then there are some major issues beyond mistakes.

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