Duke University lung researchers cough up fourth retraction, due to “inconsistent” data

Journal of Applied PhysiologyThe Journal of Applied Physiology has retracted a 2012 respiratory study after the authors found “inconsistent” data that “could not be traced to their source.” It’s the fourth retraction for two of the researchers, including Erin Potts-Kant, who was arrested in 2013 for embezzling more than $14,000 from Duke University.

The study, “Effects of corticosteroid treatment on airway inflammation, mechanics, and hyperpolarized 3He magnetic resonance imaging in an allergic mouse model,” looked at how corticosteroid therapy, a steroid treatment used for asthma, worked on mice. It’s been cited four times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, and was one of the products of the environmental lung health research conducted by Potts-Kant and Duke professor William Foster, the other co-author on the retracted studies.

Here’s the complete retraction notice:

After publication of the above article, the authors became aware that the data used to calculate the in vivo pulmonary mechanics and bronchoalveolar lavage were inconsistent and could not be traced back to their source. Uncertainty regarding the veracity of this data made Figs. 7 and 8 of our publication unreliable. Although the primary MRI study reported was conducted appropriately, certain conclusions regarding imaging findings were derived with guidance from possibly incorrect respiratory mechanics studies. The paper is therefore being retracted by the American Physiological Society at the request of Dr. Driehuys and with the approval of the coauthors. We offer our formal apologies for this error and for any inconvenience associated with the publication of the article.

We still don’t know if the problems with this study are connected with the researchers’ previous retractions, but the notices shares some similarities (as we’ve noted before).

The first paper was pulled from the Journal of Applied Physiology in 2013 after authors discovered “inconsistent” data, according to the notice:

After publication of the Articles in Press version of this article, the authors became aware that the primary data used to calculate the in vivo pulmonary mechanics results were inconsistent with the machine-generated raw data, making the data presented in Figure 2 unreliable.

Another study was retracted by PNAS earlier this year because the data were “inconsistent with the machine-generated raw data,” and a third was pulled from the American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology one month later after problems with study data were found yet again.

Last author Bastiaan Driehuys, another Duke researcher, refused to discuss the study.

Thanks for your note, but I have nothing to add.

The journal’s editor-in-chief Peter D. Wagner and the publisher American Physiological Society also declined to comment on the retraction.

APS policy regarding media inquiries is below:

Notice regarding inquiries: The APS has a transparent and rigorous publications ethics policy. The APS does not address inquiries or discuss perceived or actual ethical infractions with individuals, groups, or organizations not directly involved with the matter, including the media.

We were still unable to contact Potts-Kant but we’ve reached out to Foster. One co-author is based at Merck Research Laboratories in Boston, Massachusetts. We’ll update if they respond.

Hat Tip: Rolf Degen

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