Investigation ends in 6th retraction for Voinnet

PLOS PathogensA sixth paper co-authored by plant researcher Olivier Voinnet has been retracted by PLOS Pathogens “following an investigation into concerns.”

The investigation found “several band duplications” in one figure provided by fifth author, Patrice Dunoyer, who took it from “the Master thesis of a former student working under his supervision, without the prior consultation or consent of this student,” according to the notice. There was also an incorrect “loading control” in another figure, attributed to first author Raphael Sansregret and last author Kamal Bouarab. 

Voinnet and Bouarab, the study’s corresponding authors, took full responsibility for “the publication of this erroneous paper.”

Although investigators found that the raw data in the duplicated figure backed up its conclusions, “given the nature and extent of data manipulation,” the authors asked the journal to retract the paper .

Dunoyer and Voinnet have co-authored other retractions, including a 2010 paper in The EMBO Journal where Dunoyer admitted to making mistakes assembling some of the study figures.

The retracted study, “Extreme Resistance as a Host Counter-counter Defense against Viral Suppression of RNA Silencing,” was published in 2013 and has been cited 18 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

It’s one of the dozens of articles co-authored by Voinnet that was critiqued on PubPeer at the beginning of the year, which heralded the beginning of problems for Voinnet.

A commenter on PubPeer pointed out “numerous recurring details” in a figure. This earned responses from a commenter under the name of Olivier Voinnet saying he was “aware of a potential problem” and had contacted the journal; another commenter using the name Patrice Dunoyer said that he “used a figure that was not meant to be published.” 

Here’s the full retraction notice, which was published September 22:

At the request of the authors, PLOS Pathogens is retracting this publication following an investigation into concerns about the origin and assembly of Figure 6 and a mounting mistake in Figure 1B.

The Northern blot depicted in Figure 6 contains several band duplications affecting the panels labelled ‘IP@HA’ and ‘total RNA’. The figure was provided by Patrice Dunoyer during revision and was extracted from the Master thesis of a former student working under his supervision, without the prior consultation or consent of this student. The other authors of Sansregret et al. were not informed about the origin of this figure and, regrettably, its erroneous content escaped their attention both at the final revision and proofreading stages.

During inspection of the original blots, we realised that the loading control of Figure 1B was not the correct one; we have found the cognate one and the loadings are comparable. Importantly, the cross-reacting band visible on Figure 1B also provides an internal loading control. This mistake was made by co-authors Raphael Sansregret and Kamal Bouarab.

Further analysis of the raw material underlying the results depicted in Figure 6 was found to support the original conclusions drawn from it. The other conclusions of the published article also remain valid. However, given the nature and extent of data manipulation in Figure 6, the authors have collectively decided to retract the study.

All authors concur with this statement and apologise for not having detected these errors. Kamal Bouarab and Olivier Voinnet, as the corresponding authors, take full responsibility for the publication of this erroneous paper and regret deeply the inconvenience caused.

Adding in this latest paper, the total count for Voinnet is now up to 12 corrections and six retractions.

Allison Leung, the editorial manager at the journal, gave us more background on why the journal decided to retract the paper, which was also part of an investigation by the ETH Commission of Inquiry:

The journal conducted a thorough investigation of the concerns raised by the authors with regard to the assembly of Figure 6 and, subsequently, the mounting of Figure 1B. As this process was ongoing, the journal was made aware of an investigation made by the ETH Commission of Inquiry.  Following the completion of our investigation, and in keeping with the final recommendation by the ETH Commission of Inquiry, PLOS Pathogens supported the authors’ request to retract the article.

Voinnet won the Rössler Prize in 2013 and was awarded the EMBO Gold Medal in 2009. Earlier this year, he was suspended from the CNRS following an investigation.

We’ve contacted Voinnet and Dunoyer for a statement. We’ll update with any response.

Hat tip: Commenter “6th retraction

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6 thoughts on “Investigation ends in 6th retraction for Voinnet”

  1. Disappointing. Very disappointing. Especially this part: “the Master thesis of a former student working under his supervision, without the prior consultation or consent of this student.”

  2. Voinnet and Bouarab, the study’s corresponding authors, took full responsibility

    The iron law of Nominal Determinism prevented first author Raphael Sansregret from doing so.

  3. The 7th retraction appears for the 2003 Plant Journal paper on November 13, 2015, replacing the erratum published on June 8, 2015:

    “Since publication of the above notice the corresponding author has become aware of additional image duplications involving the loading control lanes of Figures 2g, 3a, 4e and 4f. The authors accept that integrity of the scientific literature is compromised by the data manipulation and, for that reason, they wish to retract the article. The authors apologise for having allowed this flawed article to be published.”

    However, the original PDF appears without any water-marked RETRACTED across each page.

  4. Corrigendum for the 2008 EMBO Journal paper:

    The EMBO Journal Volume 34, Issue 20
    14 October 2015 | pp 2483 – 2596

    “Authors’ statement
    Following an investigation by The EMBO Journal, the corresponding authors were alerted of the following errors:
    Figure 4D, lower panel: the images corresponding to the P6m3 and P6ΔdsR mutants are erroneous duplications of images (or sections thereof) in Figure 4A and 5A. Co‐author Olivier Voinnet made these errors during figure mounting. Since the source data were unfortunately unavailable, the experiment depicted in Figure 4A–D was reproduced by retrieving … ”

    (the rest behind a paywall)

  5. Corrigendum for the 2002 EMBO Journal paper:

    The EMBO Journal Volume 34, Issue 20
    14 October 2015 | pp 2483 – 2596

    “Authors’ statement
    The corresponding author was alerted through the PubPeer website to background pixel pattern duplications in Figure 4B of this paper. The Figure shows that a viral suppressor of silencing (P25) blocks 25‐nt siRNA and systemic silencing.
    Figure 4B.
    The background pixel pattern duplications originate from the incorrect use of image editing software to cover background marks. The image editing was … ”

    (the rest behind a paywall)

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