Despite acknowledging in its own pages that two recent high-profile retraction notices turned out to not tell the whole story, Nature will not be updating the original retraction notices, the journal tells us.
We checked in with Nature after it published two Brief Communications Arising regarding two high-profile retractions of papers describing a new method of reprogramming cells to a pluripotent state. (This method is also known as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency, or STAP.)
We were particularly intrigued by the journal’s plans for the retractions, published in 2014, when an editorial in the September 23 issue about the new BCAs (here and here) suggested the wording of the notices might be problematic:
Why is Nature publishing these pieces? The main reason is to update the scientific record. The wording of the STAP retraction notices left open the possibility that the phenomenon was genuine. It said: “Multiple errors impair the credibility of the study as a whole and we are unable to say without doubt whether the STAP-SC phenomenon is real.” The two BCAs clearly establish that it is not.
We contacted the journal to ask whether the new information in the BCAs would lead them to tweak the wording of the retractions. A spokesperson told us the retraction notices for “Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency” and “Bidirectional developmental potential in reprogrammed cells with acquired pluripotency” would link to the two BCAs:
The Brief Communications Arising add to the published literature regarding the current status of the STAP papers. As such, the publications present a more complete summary and are linked bidirectionally with the papers and retraction notices.
But would the wording of the actual retraction notices change, we asked? Again, from the spokesperson:
The retraction notices will not change at this time. The Brief Communications Arising, which are linked to both the papers and the retraction notices, present a more complete summary.
While we obsess — in a good way, we like to think — about the wording of retraction notices, this seems like a perfectly good solution to us, with one caveat: That it be clear a fair amount has changed since the notice was published. And that’s where this falls down a bit. If you go to the retraction notices — here’s one — there are links to two BCAs, but there’s no sense of how important those are. A line describing each, instead of just a link to the phrase “Brief Communications Arising” and a date, seems like a good idea.
There’s our two cents, which is even fewer coins in UK currency.
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