Botany journal retracts paper for “at least” one error

The South African Journal of Botany has retracted a 2012 paper that claimed a variety of herbal extracts have antioxidant and anti-fungal properties, due to errors in “at least” one figure.

Here’s the notice for “Contribution of herbal principles towards cytoprotective, antioxidant and anti-Rhizopus activities:”

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (

After lengthy correspondence and careful consideration, this article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief. The authors notified the Journal of scientific errors in the article, at least in Fig. 2b.

Here’s the abstract:

Herbal extracts (twenty extracts) obtained from 20 medicinal and aromatic plants were evaluated for their cytoprotectivity and antioxidant properties. Total phenol content and anti-Rhizopus activity were also determined. Results indicated that, out of 20 extracts evaluated, radical scavenging capacity and anti-Rhizopus activity were observed in aqueous extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum, Leucas aspera, Terminalia arjuna, Glycyrrhiza glabra and Nyctanthes arbortristis in a dose dependent manner. The total phenolic content was observed to be 1289, 3837, 372, 2831 and 1892μg GAE/g for O. tenuiflorum, L. aspera, T. arjuna, G. glabra and N. arbortristis respectively. The antioxidant activity correlates with the phenolic content of the extracts. At 1mg/ml the above extracts showed 98% protection on erythrocyte and buccal cell oxidation. In DNA oxidation studies, higher protection was observed in O. tenuiflorum, L. aspera and N. arbortristis extracts. These results demonstrate that the cytoprotectivity and antioxidant potency of these extracts could be the basis for their alleged health promoting potential. They could serve as new sources of natural antioxidants or nutraceuticals with potential applications in reducing oxidative stress conditions.

The paper does not yet appear to have been cited.

We’ve contacted the author and journal editor, and will update the post if we hear back.

12 thoughts on “Botany journal retracts paper for “at least” one error”

  1. Allow me to give the RW readers some personal background, which is absolutely relevant to this case, I believe.

    The Editor-in-Chief is Prof. Johannes Van Staden, who has has received a prize from Thomson Reuters [1]. I have a rich history of conflict with this individual. That conflict stemmed from a project between me and Prof. Van Staden that went sour and that had involved hundreds of thousands of Rands of potential funding in a South Africa – Japan collaboration back in about 2005. Prof. Van Staden was the former EIC of Plant Growth Regulation (Springer), but you would never be able to guess that because one cannot find any information about the history of the editor board [2] and the dedication of former editors in chief to sustain the profitability of Springer Science + Business Media. For months I had been battling the editorial board of this journal, under the former control of Prof. Van Staden, who resisted my calls for the retraction of what I said was a fraudulent paper by Mohanty and Das that abused figures. Finally, after a battle that left me badly bruised, and with a bitter base between me and the current EIC Zhong-Hua Chen, who resisted the retraction of the Mohanty + Das paper, that same paper was retracted [3]. Never did Springer SBM thank me. Never did Prof. Johannes Van Staden thank me. Never did any of the Plant Growth Regulation editors, including Zhong-Hua Chen thank me for bringing this case to their attention. It is the deeply-entrenched “peer pool” that fails to recognize the important of post-publication peer review to clean up plant science literature [4] which is, in my opinion, deeply corrupted and in a total mess.

    I should add that Prof. Van Staden is also on the editor board of Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture, another premier plant science journal published by Springer SBM [5]. He is also an editor of Acta Physiologiae Plantarum, another premier plant science journal published by Springer SBM [6]. RW readers who follow my criticisms carefully will recall that I have fiercely criticized PCTOC and APP because they have failed to make what I think are sufficient corrections and/or retractions of other flawed papers on chrysanthemum by a group of South Korean authors [7]. Scientists may also recall how the former EIC of PCTOC, Prof. Schuyler S. Korban, manipulated the impact factor of this journal by requesting authors to self-cite PCTOC in their papers before they could be accepted for publication. In all cases, despite claims about the literature to the entire editor boards of these three Springer SBM journals, I have never been thanked, or appreciated for the massive efforts I made to detect these problems. If anything, I have been victimized. Every single paper submitted to PGR in the last 9 months (approx.) has been rejected by Zhong-Hua Chen, who I claim is now biased towards me. Peer review is not blind and there is absolutely no way of getting a fair and impartial peer review. But what can I do to fight this clan of ivory tower elitists in plant science that control half of the editor boards of these main plant science journals?

    Typically what happens when I complain and reveal the rot of an editor board, the flaws of their peer reviews, I am criticized, and banned [8]. And this may be the main reason why more plant science papers are not being retraction and why such frustration abounds, even though academic fraud is rife, alive and kicking in the plant science literature [9].

    Back to the topic at hand, Prof. Johannes Van Staden, I was recently sent the message below when I declined to review a paper at PCTOC*. Is there some clause that we are forced to review papers for free by commercial publishers who fail to thank reviewers publically? Is it right that EICs then call us disappointments and nuisances simply because we do not peer review papers for their journals?

    I have also criticized Prof. Van Staden for serving on the editor boards of three Springer SBM journals, and then being the EIC of South African Journal of Botany. How can a scientists who is lauded by Thomson Reuters as being the world’s most prolific plant scientist not be willing to defend science’s integrity in PCTOC and APP papers and then claim to defend integrity in Elsevier Ltd. journals, like SAJB? Pure hypocrisy. He maintains this super-start status in the global plant science scence [10].

    I ask, how can we achieve justice in plant science publishing when these are the individuals who are praised in public but who show a second face behind closed curtains?

    [1] UKZN Scientist Tops List of World’s Highly Cited Researchers.

    March 17, 2014:

    “Dear Jaime,

    You are a great disappointment to me! You criticize others and basically make a nuisance of yourself. However, when you are asked to assist with reviewing and helping to improve journals you routinely decline.


    PROFESSOR J VAN STADEN Hon. Causa (West Hungary) FRSSAf
    Director, Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development
    Editor-in-Chief, South African Journal of Botany
    Associate Editor, Journal of Ethnopharmacology
    Associate Editor, Acta Physiologia Plantarum
    Associate Editor, PCTOC: Journal of Plant Biotechnology
    Postal Address:
    University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg
    School of Life Sciences
    Research Centre for Plant Growth and Development
    Private Bag X01, Scottsville 3209, South Africa
    Tel. +27 (0) 33 260 5130
    Fax +27 (0) 33 260 5897
    E-mail: [edited out]
    Street address :
    University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg
    School of Life Sciences
    Research Centre for Plant Growth & Development
    John Bews Building, Block C, Room 101
    Carbis Road, Scottsville, Pietermaritzburg 3201, South Africa

    Dear Prof J van Staden,

    Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, has declined to review Manuscript Number PCTO-D-14-00116.


    [log in details and passwords edited out]

    Best regards,
    Springer Journals Editorial Office
    Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC): Journal of Plant BiotechnologyDear Prof J van Staden,

    Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, has declined to review Manuscript Number PCTO-D-14-00129.

    [log in details and passwords edited out]

    Best regards,
    Springer Journals Editorial Office
    Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC): Journal of Plant Biotechnology”

    1. I believe that his retraction reflects only one thing. Bad peer review and sloppy editorial oversight, as I have witnessed with other journals that Prof. Van Staden has served or serves as EIC or editor. This calls into question immediately who the gate-keepers are, and what quality control mechanisms are in place in this journal.

      1) Please observe these four editors on the editor board of SAJB*: K.S. Downes, A.K. Jäger, G.I. Stafford, M. Vaculik. No city name or country. Who are these individuals?
      2) Why are all editors’ names abbreviated?
      3) Note carefully how E. Balazs, a long-time friend and acquaintance of Van Staden, and a co-author to several papers with Van Staden, is on the editor board. I would like to know how editors like Balazs were vetted to this editor board, what qualifications they require(d) to get on this editor board (considering that this is a South African journal and that there are VERY few international editors on this bard), and if Prof. Van Staden single-handedly hand-picked the editors?
      4) Why are the academic affiliations of these editors not indicated?
      5) Why were errors in this paper not detected during peer review?
      6) If such simple errors were not detected during peer review of this paper, can we safely assume that there is a strong possibility that other papers in South African Journal of Botany have similar or worse flaws?
      7) Would Prof. Van Staden agree formally and publically to subjecting all published papers, including his own 214 papers published in this journal (South African Journal of Botany), to post-publication peer review? (To verify, please enter Van Staden in the search function of this journal at
      8) Why does the retraction note state “at least in Fig. 2b”? If there are more problematic figures, text, or tables, or even data, why are these not mentioned or discussed? What does “scientific errors” actually mean? Why is the retraction note not more explanatory and comprehensive? With so much “back-door” investigation, it is surprising that the problem is summarized in basically only one sentence.


      1. This is van Staden’s summary from Web of Science, limiting analysis to “articles”. Parenthetically he will this year be 75 years of age.

        Results found: 1354
        Sum of the Times Cited : 15545
        Sum of Times Cited without self-citations : 12145
        Citing Articles : 9726
        Citing Articles without self-citations : 8939
        Average Citations per Item : 11.48
        h-index : 49

        Given the number of papers I find the h-index rather low. I am 32 with one tenth of the number of papers for what it is worth. Thus it is mostly the sheer number of papers which makes him highly cited.

        WoS shows he publishes still an average of about 60 papers a year.

        He has cited himself 3400 times, about 20 percent of total cites.

  2. >”I believe that his retraction reflects only one thing. Bad peer review and sloppy editorial oversight” – and yet you refuse to take part in the peer review process when asked. I find that somewhat hypocritical to be honest.

    1. PWK, the article reflects South African Journal of Botany (Elsevier). The invitation was for Plant, Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (Springer). The reason why I declained to peer review the paper: COI with authors, the lack of acknowledgement of peers’ efforts by the publisher, the lack of payment for professional services, and the attitude of Van Staden and his ivory tower colleagues. I have given more free time, effort and blood, sweat and tears to plant science than most plant scientists. So, don’t expect me to support publishers like Elsevier and Springer with my peer review. Serving as a peer is a choice, not a duty. Freedom of choice, not hypocrisy.

      1. Hyperbole aside, according to Scopus in 2013 and the first half of 2014 you published 60 papers. With a norm of 2 reviewers per paper that comes to around 120 scientists reviewing your manuscripts (with probable overlap). You do them a disservice at the very least. And I do have to note that your disapproval with Plant, Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture did not stop you publishing in that Journal in 2014. Twice.

        1. Unfortunately, I can’t pay to access Elsevier’s Scopus, so thatnks for that logistical update! Your stats and analyses are nice, thank you (I hadn’t had time yet to analyze my own stats). I am fully retired, have no affiliation to any academic institute and am thus fully free to explore my free time to my advantage and to that of science. How many scientists do you know have literally a 24/7 schedule free to dedicate to whatever course they choose? Hyperbole aside, I am one of the few (maybe the only one?) plant scientists who actively publishes in science and who also equally actively defends its integrity (publically) on a regular and consistent basis (I am trying to be as honest as possible). You will most likely find that most of my work is not rocket science, and most likely is of the level that Nature or Science editors would reject within 24 hours (as I have come to understand from personal experience). Thus, such studies are “simpler” and thus somewhat easier to publish. I never claimed anywhere that Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture was a bad journal. What I claimed was that there were elements of it that had issues, including some of the editors. That claim does not change, nor does the fact that papers wihin that journal contain problems. Why should I stop publishing there, if I find that it is one of my most preferred choices of expression? Those who volunteer to review my papers do so voluntarily, including the editors who serve on that board voluntarily. This is a CHOICE. They are not forced.

          Back to my focus here in this RW story: Johannes Van Staden. Simply I was making the remark that it is ironic that he would serve two conflicting masters (Elsevier and Springer SBM) without claiming COIs publically. It is ironic that the journal he serves as EIC, and the topic of this story, South African Journal of Botany, has published 214 of his papers. I wonder, incidentally, how many of those papers might have been rejected by PCTOC? I would like to see Van Staden’s comments on this blog in response to the criticisms leveled at him and at his journal and thus editorial skills.

          In the name of transparency: one paper of mine has ironically been accepted for publication in SAJB just 2 weeks ago, and the proof has been corrected. So look out for it in Scopus.

          1. PS: A hyperbolic comparion (assuming that you are American, judging from your two comments). Just because Walmart is involved in scandals [1], or uses/used child labor [2], or horrific conditions in production units in its developing country outposts [3] to lower its costs so that Americans can have a cheaper choice at the store does not prevent 140 million Americans from shopping at Walmart each week (slghtly outdated stats) [4]. Just because Walmart has an attrocious record, or just because shoppers might have disagreements with the managers there, doesn’t stop people from shopping at Walmart because one thing counts for them: lower price. Similarly, PCTOC is still one of the best (believe it or not) places to try and publish papers related to plant tissue culture or biotechnology. That does not mean that I have to agree with the editors, that I have to love all that they or that Springer does. Of course not. It simply means that it is a choice, one that it still relatively well respected among peers. It is my choice to publish there, even if there are eements of it I am in conflict with actively). If you spend more of your precious time, you will also find that I have published in quite a wide range of journals and publishers, simply because I am trying to assess as many as possible, so that I can then comment on experience. I hope that with my hyperbolic compariosn, you may understand my logic a little better.


    2. I find the editor’s letter ill adviced and non-professionnal. I can understand he is pissed off but should not say so. It would be perfectly okay to encourage criticism via review if this were done in a neutral way. I find the opening sentence out place in its ad hominem.

      1. “I have now decided to open the South African Journal of Botany completely to try and increase its Impact Factor.” Johannes Van Staden, to me, August 2, 2013. Latest IF scores for SAJB: 2012 = 1.409; 2013 = 1.340.

  3. A paper was submitted to SAJB. The rejection just came in, and even though all of the useful editorial remarks have already been addressed, it is the last remark that really concerns me: “Most critically for the work presented in this paper is the fact that comparisons of plant growth regulator effects on in vitro plant growth was done using mg/L instead of µM concentrations. I find this to be the major concern with all the experiments done in this work. Please refer to Trigiano R.N., Gray D.J. (2011; Editors), Plant Tissue Culture, Development, and Biotechnology. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group; Chapter 2 (Getting started with tissue culture- media preparation, sterile technique, and laboratory equipment; C.A. Beyl) – in which they stated that – “Comparisons of PGRs based on their molar concentrations are more useful because the molar concentration is a reflection of the actual number of molecules of the PGR per unit volume”.”

    Although the opinion by Trigiano and Gray has some merit, it is not a law in plant science. In fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong, or invalid, about using mg/l in plant tissue culture experiments as opposed to molar amounts. The irny about the reason for this rejection is that at least 5 papers published in SAJB in 2015 alone have used mg/l:

    The rejection e-mail was signed by Stephen Amoo, Review Board Editor, South African Journal of Botany. Why is there this apparent dichotomous set of rules for different SAJB authorship?

    Incidentally, Amoo and Van Staden are from the same lab:

  4. Subsequent to the April 1 post, the paper was modified to address previous criticisms during peer review and was resubmitted, indicating to the editor that all the requested edits, except for the mg/L to molar conversion, had been made. The second rejection arrived today, using the same excuse. This is a very serious situation of what I claim to be double editorial standards.

    “From: South African Journal of Botany [redacted]
    Date: 11 May 2015 14:42:28 +0100
    Subject: Your Submission


    South African Journal of Botany

    Dear Dr. [redacted],

    I regret to inform you that the reviewers of your manuscript have advised against publication, and I must therefore reject it.

    For your guidance, the reviewers’ comments are included below.

    Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your work.

    Yours sincerely,

    Stephen Amoo
    Review Board Editor
    South African Journal of Botany

    Reviewers’ comments:

    My main concern with the work is the comparison of the effectiveness of different PGRs in mg/L concentrations. This experimental design would make sense if comparison is for the same PGR. However, when different PGRs are under consideration the use of molar equivalents is more appropriate. As stated by Trigiano and Gray (editors, Plant Tissue Culture, Development abd Biotechnology, CRS Press, 2011) – “Comparisons of PGRs based on their molar concentrations are more useful because the molar concentration is a reflection of the actual number of molecules of the PGR per unit volume.” For example, consider the following:
    PGR MW Molar equiv. (µM) @ 1.0 mg/L
    2iP 203.24 4.92
    BA 225.25 4.44
    Kn 215.25 4.65
    mT 241.21 4.14
    TDZ 220.2 4.54
    Zea 219.24 4.56

    These seemingly small differences can have profound effects on plant growth considering the fact that “PGRs exert dramatic effects at low concentrations (0.001-10 µM)” (Trigiano and Gray (editors, Plant Tissue Culture, Development abd Biotechnology, CRS Press, 2011).”

    It is incomprehensible how “these seemingly small differences” did not have “profound effects on plant growth” in the 5 recent papers indicated above that used the mg/L system and were accepted for publication, and published, in SAJB.

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