Bee researcher in the Congo blames “injustice, segregation and colonialism” for retractions, Science correction

j insect conservationA bee researcher based in Congo has had two papers retracted, and a paper in Science corrected, for various reasons including unreliable data. The researcher, however, blames colonialism.

M. B. Théodore Munyuli is at the National Center for Research in Natural Sciences, CRSN-Lwiro, D.S. Bukavu, Kivu, and studies the distribution and diversity of bees. Here’s the notice from Psyche: A Journal of Entomology, for a paper on which Munyuli is the sole author:

The article titled “Climatic, Regional Land-Use Intensity, Landscape, and Local Variables Predicting Best the Occurrence and Distribution of Bee Community Diversity in Various Farmland Habitats in Uganda” [1], published in Psyche, has been retracted as it was found to include erroneous data. Its findings and conclusion cannot be relied on.

And here’s the notice for “Patterns of bee diversity in mosaic agricultural landscapes of central Uganda: implication of pollination services conservation for food security:”

This paper has been retracted from Journal of Insect Conservation. The decision is made jointly by the editor and Springer after an investigation following the comments of the named authors. The retraction is on the basis that some of the co-authors did not agree to the submission of the manuscript and were unaware that it had been submitted. It is the policy of the journal that all authors must agree to the submission of a manuscript in which they are named as an author.

Munyuli was also one of a number of authors of a paper in Science last year that has been corrected. The correction refers to a paper on which he was the sole author:

In the Report “Wild Pollinators Enhance Fruit Set of Crops Regardless of Honey Bee Abundance,” it is possible that some pollinator species were misidentified in lowland coffee, Uganda, one of the 41 studies included in the synthesis. This potential misidentification does not invalidate the analyses, conclusions, or the wider implications of the study. The results are not sensitive to which of the 41 studies are included, because the authors performed several analyses with different subsets of studies, and they all showed similar results. Furthermore, the mixed-effect models allow for individual variation in trends for each study. The results of these analyses depend on the consistency of patterns across all of the 41 studies sampled in 600 fields, and are not influenced to any large extent by a particular pattern occurring in just one study. The main analysis compared the flower visitation rate of honey bees versus all wild insect species combined. This analysis should be largely insensitive to identification concerns because honey bees were readily separable from other species in all studies. Indeed, the analyses performed in the synthesis do not make use of the species names of the wild insects (see database S1).

The Science paper has been cited 49 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Munyuli told us by email that the retractions and correction were due to “injustice, segregation, and colonialism:”

It is mainly jealousy of some scientists . some people  wanted me to send  the manuscripts  to them before publishing. I refused since I am the one who did the field and I am a professional scientist. I did not need input of anybody. Some people  believe African  based scientists  can not publish in high impact factor journals. we must lift them. that is a wrong attitude. Other wants to be the main author of your work. I am the one who did the wok.  Others scientists do not want to see young scientists to emerge. There is some kind of colonialism in this research funded in Africa. some other people asked me raw data and  I refused to give. My donors wanted to publish my PhD data before me. Yet I spent 4 years in the field collecting the data, now they wanted it and I refused because there was no way I could allow my raw getting  published before I graduate. Other wanted a copy of my bee collection and I refused to give  because they want to publish and pretend it is their data. All these people are friends to editors. They are white  and they can easily raise their voices and me who is black, they think we are just  animals we can not do scientific works.  despite my explanation, no body could listen to me. Yet,   my data is a true data. their accusations are completely wrong. Even GOD know, the data from the two papers is true  data but because I am  a black  African, I am supposed to know nothing and have no reason at all. Remind me I will  send  their reports to you. I am travelling in a bus now from Zambia   but when home I will  send these reports  to you and you  see  how injustice, segregation and colonialism is still on in minds of some white Europeans. It is a disaster and  discouraging to work in such conditions.

We asked Munyuli for the reports several days ago, and will update with anything we learn.

13 thoughts on “Bee researcher in the Congo blames “injustice, segregation and colonialism” for retractions, Science correction”

  1. Well, I am not in that scientific field, but the whole story seems to be not that easy to understand. Of course, it is not OK to publish a paper and not having the consent of all listed authors. On the other hand, the work and the data during a PhD thesis usually should belong to the PhD – and all sources should or have to be mentioned in a thesis – but not every supervisor seems to know that the data belong to the PhD student (this is different for master theses), which might have caused some problems. On the other hand, I see a potential racistic insult by the PhD in accusing scientists not involved in this field, but just having not his skin colour.

    1. This is not the case, at least in America. (I can’t speak to African laws). The data belongs to the person who paid the PhD and provided reagents, even if it’s indirect (eg through a grant). Typically, this is the University, which typically gives it to the PI via an agreement.

      A PhD almost never “owns” their own data. While a PI might not meet authorship qualifications to publish the work in most journals… they would be very might within their legal right to take the raw data and publish it and the PhD student could do nothing.

      1. qaq, your comment realy caught my eye. We all know how Elsevier and Springer are always asking authors to fulfill the authorship requirements of the ICMJE. According to your analysis of “American” (I assume you mean US) laws, a person (the PI) can be a co-author simply because he/she provided the reagents and/or lab equipment? If so, this would violate the authorship definitions of the ICMJE and invalidate potentially hundreds if not thousands of papers that would not have, at least according to the ICMJE, valid authors. I think this issue needs a much deeper investigation.

  2. Are the “some people wanted [sic] me to send the manuscripts to them before publishing.” the same people that Munyuli listed as co-authors on the second paper, and who did not agree to the submission of the paper? If so, retracting that paper isn’t racism and colonialism, it’s ethical publishing practices.

    1. Yes I think this is the implication of “some people wanted me to send the manuscripts to them before publishing. I refused since I am the one who did the field and I am a professional scientist. I did not need input of anybody”

      Maybe this is all a sad misunderstanding: Munyuli perceived his coauthors’ request to see the manuscript as an attack on his own competence and independence; whereas they (one can assume) saw it as par for the course in science, and as necessary for them to be happy putting their names on it.

      1. I think your take on this paper is pretty likely (but what of the other?) and I have a suspicion of which author. I googled all the authors and they are either Ugandan (and unfortunately, I can’t find much info on them) or list the article in their CVs (Atkinson) or on a press release on their organization’s website (Vickery). Therefore, I suspect that Potts is the author that was not aware of it. He has quite a long CV (http://www.reading.ac.uk/caer/staff_simon_potts.html), which does not include this paper – he seemingly has his name on a lot of papers as a secondary author – though I am not sure what that means in this field.
        I don’t entirely understand the PhD data section though. From one of his papers (http://www.iresa.agrinet.tn/tjpp/tjpp7/8Theodore1.pdf) it seems he was funded by the McArthur foundation and a grant to research in that area, neither of which I could imagine would be trying to steal his data. I also don’t see how that conflict figures into either retraction, as now this would be post-publication, so he shouldn’t be too concerned about it getting stolen now (and indeed, I would hope that those data are/were available after publication).
        I’d be more curious about what exactly were the grounds for the Psyche retraction – I don’t think he addresses it, but even more importantly, who called out the data? Surely not an editor or reviewer or it wouldn’t have gotten published, then retracted. I can think of a number of scenarios, but not sure there is any evidence for or against any of them.

        1. I suspect that a peep at the acknowledgements section might give clues as to who called him on his data. As the Psyche paper is single author there aren’t many alternatives.

  3. This seems like a very sad situation. It looks like two issues are going on: (1) some folks wanted to see Munyuli’s data and he didn’t trust them with it; and (2) he submitted work that attributed authorship to folks who weren’t asked if they wanted their work published, again because of mistrust. It seems premature to me as to whether any identifications were mistaken (since the data weren’t furnished), but it is clear that science can’t exist with this kind of mistrust. The notion of sharing data has broken down. And I think Minyuli is correct in attributing some of this to the ill-will engendered by colonialism. This is the very reason that academia has been termed an ivory tower, i.e. rife with misconduct of a sort that destroys trust. A very sad situation! It is unclear what will happen to Minyuli as a researcher.

    1. I am a Caucasian (and a white*) and I often refer to the Caucasian-dominated US and EU-dominant publishing empires as ivory towers. The “racism” argument is thus invalid because it has nothing to do with race, or creed, but may have something to do with culture. There is a very unfortunate entrenched thinking among some non-Caucasian Africans that the result of all of their tragedies is because of colonialism. This card is used to gather funds, is used to induce pity and is the worst type of excuse that Africans can now use in an academic setting. Let’s be clear here. Africa is run by Africans, most likely, at least south of the equator, with the possible rare exception of South Africa, by mostly non-Caucasians. This includes all socio-political, academic and economic structures and infrastructures. Due to the high level of corruption in African nations, there is also, by association, a culture of mistrust. It is time for Africa to get over the colonial era, and move along as a free and independent continent, and stop blaming Europeans for all the ill-wills. Think about it, it is not Europe, the US, China and other nations that are forcefully exploring the natural resources of Africa, including those blood diamonds and copper of the author’s home country. Rather, it is the invitation of governments in Africa of these “colonializing” powers to explore these resources, in exchange for profits (and bribes) that induces this twisted thinking. Time for African to grow up and assume responsibility for its own actions. And this includes academics in universities, and researchers like Munyuli.

      Nobody doubts the hard work by Munyuli, but what he has to understand is that submission to a journal involves respecting the journal’s/publisher’s rules, which, in this case, requires that all authors have knowledge of, and approve, submission to a journal. At least, this is my understanding of Springer’s journals. And this is not a complicated, or unreasonable request. There are only some extraneous circumstances under which this rule might not apply, for example, when a co-author’s e-mail has changed, the location, years after an experiment was conducted, cannot be identified, the death of a co-author, etc. It is clearly evident that Munyuli is peeved off with his co-authors, and maybe even rightfully so, but to claim “injustice, segregation and colonialism” is not only unreasonable, it is far-fetched, even for my standards. The way in which Munyuli complains, however, suggests that he in fact did almost everything and that the contribution by his co-authors may have been very little, or even zero, i.e., there is a sense that this has got to do with guest authorship (perhaps some co-authors were not happy to share the platform with others?). Maybe the full truth will be revealed if Munyuli is able to provide RW with the documents he promised.

      * http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-white-and-caucasian/

    2. How can he expect anyone to give their names to his papers without even seeing them? I have the feeling, that he needed the big names to get an easy acceptance and is now playing the racist card in defense. This seems to happen more often in the political sciences than in the natural sciences.

  4. 1) Springer could have very easily avoided another retraction by contacting the authors. This should be MOST embarrassing for them. Very pathetic.

    2) I would like clarity on what data he wouldn’t provide? Was it the data that went into the already published works or pre-publication data? If the former, retractions are warranted.

    This raises an interesting point: there are horribly unethical people in science. There absolutely are racist/prejudiced people who hold considerable power and who would do everything they could to ruin certain people because they don’t like them. This exists. What happens if you are a PhD student and you work in the lab of someone who is trying to tank your career? What if they tell you straight up that they will never publish your work with you as an author because you are ____? If you can’t prove it, you may have no good recourse.

  5. On one hand I feel that the first author had an ego-cultural conflict with other authors, and I had more than one African friend over graduation who behaved similarly in academic work. In this ground, the retraction would be justified, especially if other authors do not agree with the manuscript contents. On the other hand I feel “potential misidentification” is quite vague and could contain some nit-picking for any reason, including racism, however that should not have been fathomed.

    1. “Potential misidentification”…. well I am not sure that the Psyche paper’s species list stands up to serious scrutiny, although the specimens have not been looked at to verify this. 32 species of Scrapter are listed, 31 of which are South African endemics. This looks a bit more than just “nit-picking” to me

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