Prostate cancer paper flagged by ORI is retracted following PETA prompt

cover_issue_129_en_USA federal investigation into a paper on prostate cancer has now led to a retraction. In an unusual twist, it happened following a request from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

In January, the Office of Research Integrity reported that corresponding author Dong Xiao “intentionally fabricated data” in an Oncotarget study of how a steroid inhibits the growth of prostate cancer. Xiao, a former cancer researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, claimed that he had tumor data from more mice than he did, and falsified several figures.

In July, after no sign of the retraction, a researcher at PETA followed up with the journal, Oncotarget, on behalf of the organization “and our more than 3 million members and supporters to request the immediate retraction.”

Last month, they received a reply from the publisher, which they forwarded to us:

At Oncotarget we are very serious about any practices that violate research integrity. And after your first letter the paper was immediately withdrawn from online for the investigation.

Our internal investigation has also reached the conclusion about research misconduct and we are preparing the paper for the official retraction. The retraction notice will appear in the the next issue of Oncotarget, issue 30, which will appear online on October 6.

And then the paper will be retracted from PubMed.

We will update you about each step.

Thank you very much for your efforts to maintain the scientific integrity.

The journal posted the retraction note earlier this month for “Guggulsterone inhibits prostate cancer growth via inactivation of Akt regulated by ATP citrate lyase signaling”:

This article has been retracted due to falsified data in Figures 1, 4, 5, S2 and S3 reporting tumor experiments on animals.

The authors sincerely apologize to the scientific community for any confusion or adverse consequences resulting from the publication of this data.

It has not has not been cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

This is not the first time that PETA has played the role of retraction watchdog. In 2011, we reported on a couple cases where they prompted publishers to take action on ORI reports. Justin Goodman, associate director of PETA’s laboratory investigations department, told us in 2011:

Our interest is in getting animals out of labs. One way we do that is by making sure that people who violate guidelines are appropriately sanctioned. That can include retractions and having funding cut off…That’s why we do pursue these cases and we are tenacious.

Hat tip: Tasgola Bruner, PETA Media Manager

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5 thoughts on “Prostate cancer paper flagged by ORI is retracted following PETA prompt”

  1. The PDF file can still be downloaded, and carries no red water-marked RETRACTION on each page. Even though the top page does indicate with red text that the paper has been retracted, any researcher can still download the PDF and then, in the worst-case scenario, cite the paper.

  2. Surprised to note that Oncotarget is on Potential, possible, or probable predatory scholarly open-access journals. Yes, you are right – more than 20 papers commented on pubpeer in 2015 alone. But Oncotarget has a very high profile editorial board and it is now a weekly journal…

  3. Today I have formally invited Jeffrey Beall to please indicate publicly the precise reasons why Oncotarget, which carries a high impact factor and is listed on PubMed, is listed on his list of “predatory” open access journals:

    I have also invited, in the same e-mail, Oncotarget to please indicate that it will address all of the concerns that have been raised at PubPeer.

    I sincerely hope that both parties address the public.

    1. Today, within 5 days, Oncotarget provided a polite and formal response and promise to investigate all papers being questioned at PubPeer:
      “Dear Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva, We would like to thank you for your efforts to maintain the scientific integrity. At Oncotarget we are also very serious about this matter. We are carrying the internal investigation for the papers being in question at PubPeer. If any claim is confirmed, the retraction of the paper will follow. Any retraction claim is a very serious matter, which is required time and efforts to be resolved. Thank you for your understanding. Oncotarget”

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