We can’t resist flagging some misleading language in a retraction note for a 2015 paper on the inner workings of an amoeba pathogen.
The note for “The Charms of the CHRM Receptors: Apoptotic and Amoebicidal effects of Dicyclomine on Acanthamoeba castellanii” is short, so we’re going to give it to you up front:
This accepted manuscript has been retracted because the journal is unable to verify reviewer identities.
Sounds like another case of faked emails to generate fake peer reviews, right? But that’s not what happened to this paper, according to the editor in chief of Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, Louis B. Rice, a professor at Brown University:
The retraction was necessary because of an editorial error in using the author’s suggested reviewers, whose lack of qualifications to review the work only came to light after the manuscript had been accepted and made available online. The retraction was deemed necessary because of the potentially compromised peer review. However, I as the Editor-in-Chief concluded there was no attempt by the author to manipulate the review process. The retraction in no way represents any wrongdoing on the part of the author, who has been encouraged to submit his work to ASM journals in the future.
Rice told us how issues with the peer review came to light:
The area of investigation is one with relatively few highly qualified referees. The author suggested the original reviewers, we believe in good faith. It was later recognized on review of their publication history that their expertise was not sufficient in this area.
We asked why, then, did the retraction note say that the peer reviewers could not be identified? Rice told us:
The wording was imprecise. We did in fact eventually verify the reviewer identities, and in so doing concluded that they were not sufficiently qualified. After detailed discussion with the author, I determined that his suggestion of these reviewers reflected naivete rather than an attempt to manipulate the review process. Since the manuscript had already been published online, we retracted the paper. It has been rejected on scientific grounds and will not be published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
We confirmed with Rice that the journal did submit the paper to another peer review with qualified reviewers before it was rejected. He declined to tell us why the paper was rejected.
We still find the wording very strange, so we asked if there were plans to change it. Rice said no:
I am not aware of any plans to change the wording.
The sole author is Abdul Mannan Baig, a biologist at Aga Khan University in Pakistan. We emailed him, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
Hat tip: Tom Jove
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