Stunner: Researchers retract paper because company complains it’s hurting profits

ajfsIt’s not unusual for us to hear allegations that journals have caved to corporate demands that they retract papers. And companies have certainly objected to the publication of results that painted their products in an unflattering light.

But what we’ve never explicitly seen is a retraction notice that comes right out and says that the only reason a paper is being removed from the literature is that a company complained. That’s the jaw-dropping case with “Visual defects among consumers of processed cassava (gari),” a paper published earlier this year in the African Journal of Food Sciences:

The authors, Yusuf A. Z., Zakir A., Shemau Z., Abdullahi M., Halima S. A. Abubakar U., Sani Kassim and Nuhu Mohammed, have requested the retraction of their article titled “Visual defects among consumers of processed cassava (gari)” which was published in Vol. 8(1), pp. 25-29, January 2014, DOI: 10.5897/AJFS2013.1093 from the journal’s website and publisher’s database.

The retraction is based on the fact that a Gari processing company has requested the retraction this paper from journal’s website and publisher’s database since it is crumbling their business inputs to their competitors leading to a drastic reduction in customers and consumers hence affecting their productivity and profitability.

Yusuf A. Z and all co-authors are deeply sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused to the editorial staff, readers and other researchers.

Yusuf is an employee of the Nigerian National Petroleum Cooperation, according to the paper, which does not say which Gari processing companies’ products were studied. Here’s the abstract of the paper:

The incidence and degree of visual defects was studied among 180 subjects (100 consumers and another 80 non-consumers of gari at Zaria metropolis town). Visual acuity and color vision tests were accessed using the Snellen’s chart and the Ishihara’s chart, respectively. The visual acuity of consumers of gari showed a significant decrease (P<0.05) when compared with that of the non consumers of gari. The incidence of color blindness is higher in gari consumers than the non consumers. Visual defects are correlated to the frequency of eating gari, for how long gari has been eaten and age. The high prevalence of visual defects among the consumers of gari may be due to the exposure to unsafe amount of cyanide in gari that was consumed over a long period of time. This may consequently contribute to high prevalence of blindness and severe visual impairment especially among those aged ≥ 40 years.

We’ve asked Yusuf and the journal’s editors for details, including whether there were any problems with the paper itself, which you can find here. The publisher, Academic Journals, is on Jeffrey Beall’s list of possible predatory publishers. We’ll update with anything we learn.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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19 thoughts on “Stunner: Researchers retract paper because company complains it’s hurting profits”

  1. I’ll give the publisher credit for actually carrying out a formal retraction. Most predatory publishers simply make a paper disappear with no trace when the paper is found to be problematic for some reason.

    Still, it seems that of all the papers in questionable journals out there, this one might be worthy of favorable attention — and not retraction — for it warns of a serious public health risk, namely blindness from eating gari with cyanide in it.

    I agree — this is stunning.

    1. But if the results were legit, why publish in a toilet?

      If the results were merely preliminary, inconclusive or open to legitimate question, they could still be published in a reasonable journal if they reflect a significant public health issue.

          1. Maybe not, but there are papers dating back to at least 1994 that claim the same thing ( e.g. PMID:

  2. The paper makes no sense anyway. Table 2 reports the consumption rates of the gari consumers and – wait for it – non-consumers. Bizarrely the columns are headed ‘experimental’ and ‘control’. The term ‘non-applicable’ is used, presumably to indicate no consumption. The tables look like they might have been copied from another source.

    The retraction is simply confirmation that none of this has anything to do with science.

  3. Government funded scientists often have their own corporation: John Doe, PhD Inc.
    These informal corporations get funds and publish papers as career builders and promotions.
    As such they should be held to the same scrutiny as profit seeking corporations. Its really that simple.

    1. “Often”? Care to share some statistics for your claim? I’ve spent the last 10 years as a government funded scientist and I met maybe one or two people who did anything like this (and they were quite transparent and honest about it).

  4. Wait until corporations learn that they can damage the reputation of any scientist with little expense, just by posting allegations of scientific misconduct on a few media outlets and then let the disgruntled masses of unemployed PhDs take it from there.

    1. Ya, I guess they will have to beg private corporations for jobs instead of free rides on the taxpayer dole.

    2. 1. A lot of these blogs and websites that question published literature are being maintained by established and ’employed’ researchers and usually also put up evidence of data manipulation. These are not just saying ‘we dont’ like the data’ or ‘we could not reproduce the data’.
      2. Is it not unreasonable for unemployed PhDs to be disgruntled and angry if they cannot find meaningful employment after 10 or more years of working hard in the lab and excelling at studies. More so when they can clearly see that some of the positions / grants have been secured by falsification and manipulation of data?

      1. I think it should be “Is it not reasonable”, not “unreasonable”. Anyway, they sure can be angry. Personally, I don’t know any good PhD who has no gained meaningful employment after 10 or more yeas. I do know some who are not so good, but still they have reasonable non academic jobs. They should focus on more productive directions for their life.

        1. I’m shocked by contempt and bile towards people who have worked hard, are extremely able and are struggling to make a career in a pyramid scheme of academic science. I know many good scientists who have left the field because of their disillusionment, a difficult decision, made harder by attitudes like this. Likewise, I know plenty of barely competent researchers who’ve made it to high levels just because they “talk the talk”. “Free rides on the taxpayer dole?” We are vastly overproducing PhDs relative to the number of jobs available.

  5. Scientist don’t have a “blanc seing” for shitting in the face of any company with bad science, just to afraid people. If casava make people blind, epidemiologic data would confirm it easily. I don’t find anything about that in Pubmed…

  6. It is well evident that this was a predatory journal. The paper has an obviously flawed design (most of the “non-consumers of gari” actually ate gari, just check table 2) and it is riddled with mistakes that a casual reviewer would easily have noted. Two obvious examples of the latter include using Ishihara test to look for tritanopia (it does not) and text conflicts with table (what are frequencies of non-consumers in table 2 are given as percentages in the text). If this was professionally reviewed, the review failed badly, but I doubt it was.

  7. And so here’s the crime:

    The hypothesis is legitimate. The data may hint at something. The authors may have lacked the training to conduct the study and/or write the paper! This is a serious world education issue, and these folks should be helped.

    Unfortunately, they likely faced two options: attempt to publish in a real journal and get summarily rejected and put down or publish in a predatory journal. If only the peer review process could help them appropriately test their hypothesis and eventually publish in a strong journal with more work! Instead, the world is left to wonder…

    However, I wonder if the Streisand Effect will end up coming into full force here… perhaps someone who is concerned about the people eating this staple crop could team up with these researchers to conduct a higher quality version of this study that could stand up to legal threats and intimidation (which probably took place here).

    1. A survey of Thomson Reuter’s master list reveals that several journals published by this publisher lost their impact factors in 2012, as far as I can tell, at least African Journal of Biotechnology and Journal of Medicinal Plant Research. To have an IF in 2010 and 2011, and then to suddnely not have one must surely have a background reason. Despite calls for a public explanaton by Thomson Reuters and to Dr. Tonukari, the EIC of AJB, no explanation is forthcoming, although Dr. Tonukari offers a public apology to the scientific community, but does not explain the reasons: A search for “retractions” on the Academic Journals search platform reveals very few traceable retractions. I believe that the lack of transparency by officials is counter to academic integrity.

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