“Not faithful” figures kill apoptosis paper

iaicoverA paper on apoptosis in mice has been retracted by Infection and Immunity after a reader tipped them off that several figures were “not faithful representations of the original data.”

When the journal, published by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), contacted the authors at Anhui Medical University in Hefei, China, they claimed they couldn’t provide the experimental data thanks to “damage to a personal computer,” said Ferric Fang, editor of the journal and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Scientific Integrity, Retraction Watch’s parent organization. Seven figures in total were compromised, including several that were duplicated throughout the article.

Here’s the notice for “Reactive Oxygen Species-Triggered Trophoblast Apoptosis Is Initiated by Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress via Activation of Caspase-12, CHOP, and the JNK Pathway in Toxoplasma gondii Infection in Mice”:

After publication, this article was found to have evidence of data duplication or manipulation as follows: (i) regions of identity are found in the fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) plots in Fig. 4A (GD10 control and GD16 control) and Fig. 4C (0 h control and co-culture), and (ii) multiple bands purporting to represent different samples appear to be identical: the first three lanes of the GRP78 panel in Fig. 7B and the CHOP panel in Fig. 7C, the p-p38 and p38 panels in Fig. 7C, and the beta-actin panels from Fig. 7B and 8C.

Since the figures are not faithful representations of the original data and the original experimental data are unavailable, the authors retract this publication. We apologize to the editors and readers of Infection and Immunity and express our regret for any inconvenience this has caused.

Fang gave us more details by email:

IAI received a correspondence from a reader that called our attention to anomalies in some of the figures in this manuscript, as specified in the retraction notice.  Per standard procedure for ASM journals, I reviewed the figures with the assistance of an in-house digital data specialist, a publication ethics manger, and other journals staff.  We concluded that the problems warranted contacting the authors.  The authors were unable to provide the primary data that had been used to construct the figures, citing ‘damage to a personal computer’.  This met the COPE criterion of ‘clear evidence that the findings are unreliable,’ and the authors and I agreed that it would therefore be appropriate to retract the paper.

The paper has received 33 citations, according to Google Scholar. We’ve  reached out to the corresponding author, and will update if we hear back.

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2 thoughts on ““Not faithful” figures kill apoptosis paper”

  1. What would have happened if the reader complaint went to a more conventional editor, and not someone known for his stance on misconduct, like Ferric Fang? Probably not very much at all….

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