“Data fabrication and manipulation have occurred”: Taste bud paper soured by fraud

The Journal of NeuroscienceA 2013 paper on the neurological impact of flavors has been retracted from The Journal of Neuroscience. The retraction notice offers few details (which is typical for the journal), but a statement sent to us by the last author noted that an investigation at the University of Maryland “determined that data fabrication and manipulation have occurred in this study.”

Gustatory Stimuli Representing Different Perceptual Qualities Elicit Distinct Patterns of Neuropeptide Secretion from Taste Buds” examined the relationship between flavors and neuropeptides, molecules that send signals to the brain.

Here’s the retraction notice:

At the request of the corresponding author, The Journal of Neuroscience is retracting “Gustatory Stimuli Representing Different Perceptual Qualities Elicit Distinct Patterns of Neuropeptide Secretion from Taste Buds” by Maartje C. P. Geraedts and Steven D. Munger, which appeared on pages 7559–7564 of the April 24, 2013 issue.

Both authors were based at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore at the time the study was conducted. Steven D. Munger is now the associate director of the Center for Smell and Taste and professor at the University of Florida.

When reached by email for comment, Munger sent us a statement about the retraction:

An investigation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (based on allegations by the corresponding author, Dr. Munger) has determined that data fabrication and manipulation have occurred in this study. Additionally, efforts by members of the Munger laboratory not involved in this study to validate key aspects of these experiments were unsuccessful. Therefore, I no longer have confidence in the results presented in this study, or the conclusions drawn from them, and have requested that the paper be retracted to correct the scientific record.

After reading Munger’s statement, first author Maartje (Maria) Geraedts told us:

I have no comment, his is very clear.

She added that she is:

…not affiliated with any university anymore. I wish not to share my affiliation.

The Society for Neuroscience, the journal’s publisher, declined to discuss the retraction.

The Society for Neuroscience does not comment on specific retractions in the Journal of Neuroscience.

We’ve reached out to the University of Maryland, and the journal’s editor-in-chief, Dora Angelaki. We’ll update if they respond.

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

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5 thoughts on ““Data fabrication and manipulation have occurred”: Taste bud paper soured by fraud”

  1. Ivan. Given that you appear to have an uncanny knack for getting face/ear time with journals and their editors, perhaps you could ask SfN or J. Neurosci. what is happening W.R.T. the Donmez paper (the one discussed here… http://www.psblab.org/?p=167).

    It’s been 3 years since potential issues were first raised. John Maunsell (former EiC) looked into it and declared no problems. In the meantime Donmez retracted 2 papers and left her job. Then about a year ago (with a lot of badgering), the new EiC and the ethics committee of SfN opened a new investigation, and I’ve been emailing them every couple of months asking for updates. While initially they had the courtesy to respond with a short “we’re still looking into it”, my last few requests have simply been ignored altogether.

    I’ve CC’ed COPE on some of the emails (since their guidelines specifically instruct journals and editors to respond to inquiries), but they’ve also ignored my emails.

    As a non-journalist, without the powerful incentive/stick that comes with by running a popular website, let me simply ask this – how is a scientist supposed to get a response out of a journal, when both the journal and the ethics oversight body it belongs to, go incommunicado?

    1. Someone who brings an allegation is not entitled to a response, in my opinion. These investigations, once forwarded to the institution, proceed confidentially. The institution and journal have an obligation to investigate these matters; they do not have an obligation to pacify someone who brings an allegation. That person is neither judge, jury, nor executioner here.

  2. Lloyd, whether someone who brings an allegation is entitled to a response is an arguable point that depends on a number of variables, not the least of which is the validity and seriousness of the allegation made. But, it seems to me that, as a matter of professional courtesy, such an individual is most certainly entitled to a reply.

  3. Agree with Miguel Roig on this one.
    The Society for Neuroscience, if it indeed is responsible for managing the Journal, is remiss in not clarifying the reasons for retractions, at least to the extent of giving a 25 words or less explanation. At the very least, the reason will suggest how a reader should view the assertions made in the retracted paper: as honest efforts with defects, or as bogus and arguably false tracks. Otherwise, how is one to look at a paper? Just ignore it altogether? What if it’s in your field and you would like to verify its accuracy, perhaps by replication and/or extension of its findings?
    I think it is wasteful to leave the reader with no alternative but to completely ignore the retracted paper. If the work was going in the right direction, why cover it in white-out? Potentially, hundreds of cute little mice could have been sacrificed, and thousands of hours of unpaid labor by exploited post-docs could have been expended, in the course of gathering possibly valuable data– for nothing?

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