Authors issue their own expression of concern about elephant femur paper

interfaceThe authors of a 2012 paper in the journal Interface have had the journal issue an expression of concern about it after issues with “some of the data and methods” came to light.

Here’s the expression of concern for “What makes an accurate and reliable subject-specific finite element model? A case study of an elephant femur:”

Subsequent to publication of ‘What makes an accurate and reliable subject-specific finite element model? A case study of an elephant femur. J. R Soc. Interface 9, 351–361 (7 February 2012; Published online 13 July 2011, doi:10.1098/rsif.2011.0323)’, the journal received an expression of concern from the authors (O. Panagiotopoulou, S. D. Wilshin, E. J. Rayfield, S. J. Shefelbine and J. R. Hutchinson) about the validity of some of the data and methods. While awaiting the outcome of further investigations, the Editor and the authors wish to notify readers of our concerns regarding this article.

The notice is signed by all of the authors along with Leslie Dutton, editor of the journal.

Hutchinson tells Retraction Watch:

We are waiting for a decision from my college’s hearing on this paper, and then discussing with the journal as needed. Until then I cannot comment further, but the process is speeding along.

We can appreciate that, and also note that it is quite unusual for the authors of a paper to issue an expression of concern. Usually the editors do, and often because authors refuse to retract a problematic paper. So kudos to Hutchinson and his colleagues.

The paper has been cited seven times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. For those curious, here’s what a “finite element model” does, according to the abstract:

Finite element modelling is well entrenched in comparative vertebrate biomechanics as a tool to assess the mechanical design of skeletal structures and to better comprehend the complex interaction of their form–function relationships.

Update, 3 p.m. Eastern, 7/21/14: We note that this is actually the second expression of concern this year for the paper’s first author, Olga Panagiotopoulou. We covered the first one, from the Journal of Anatomy, in May.

Update, 2 p.m. Eastern, 7/27/14: Panagiotopoulou tells us:

We have identified some methodological errors in the validation analysis that was performed in a) the Panagiotopoulou et al. 2012 Interface of Royal Society 9 351-361 and Panagiotopoulou et al. 2010 Journal of Biomechanics 43 (8) 1063-1611 studies. The latter study is also used in the Panagiotopoulou et al. 2011 Journal of Anatomy 218 (1) 75-86 paper. All authors have unanimously agreed on an expression of concern to prevent other scientists from using our problematic data and all related journal editors and publishers have been contacted. We are waiting for a decision from hearings with regards to each of the papers, and we will then discuss further actions with the respective journals. Until the hearings are complete I cannot comment further.

Hat tip: Bob O’Hara

One thought on “Authors issue their own expression of concern about elephant femur paper”

  1. Finite element analysis is a well established technique in the field of structural analysis, and fundamental to the analysis of many complex structures. It consists of subdividing the structure into a large (but finite, hence the name) number of elements and then calculating the forces and displacements on the nodes of each of those elements.

    A better description of what a finite element model does is thus:

    ‘An FEM finds the forces and displacements at specific points in a discretised model of a structure.’

    With appropriate post-processing you can get all kinds of other useful information from these results, e.g. the stresses and deformations in your structure.

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