Authors retract meningitis paper over permission — but data are in a public database

plos1A study characterizing subtypes of the bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis is being retracted after the authors didn’t have permission to publish the data, even though the data itself remain available in a public database.

The paper, in PLOS ONE, relied on a laboratory collection of patient samples. In October, the authors retracted it because they “did not have permission” from the laboratory “to publish the data in their current form.” The data — anonymized — are now available at PubMLST.

Here’s the retraction notice, published on October 16:

The authors wish to retract this article at the request of the Scottish Haemophilus Legionella Meningococcus Pneumococcus Reference Laboratory (SHLMPRL). Although the work was part of an independently-funded research grant awarded to Stuart Clarke, Matthew Diggle and Robert Davies by the Scottish Executive, they did not have permission from the current SHLMPRL management to publish the data in their current form. The anonymised data in the MLST database will remain available. The authors apologise to the readers.

The paper, “Clonal Analysis of Meningococci during a 26 Year Period Prior to the Introduction of Meningococcal Serogroup C Vaccines,” examined the prevalence of different subtypes of the bacterium Neisseria meningitides from 1972 to 1998. It has not yet been cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

A PLOS ONE spokesperson explained that the retraction stemmed from a disagreement over the publication of the data between the authors of the study and the laboratory which provided the samples:

It is the responsibility of authors to ensure that adequate permissions and approvals have been obtained for work reported in manuscripts submitted for publication. This study made use of samples from the Scottish Haemophilus, Legionella, Meningococcus and Pneumococcus Reference Laboratory (SHLMPRL). The authors requested the use of samples at the start of the study, however a disagreement arose with the management of SHLMPRL at a later stage in relation to the publication of the work and the authors and SHLMPRL reached a consensus to retract the publication. We are not aware of restrictions on the data deposited at the MLST database.

Patient consent was not required for analysis of the samples in the laboratory, and all data were anonymized for the purposes of the study.

We have reached out to the corresponding author Stuart Clarke at the University of Southampton. Clarke and his co-authors Mathew Diggle and first author Christopher Sullivan are listed on the paper as affiliated with the SHLMPRL.

We have also reached out to the SHLMPRL, to try to learn more about the nature of the disagreement over permission to publish the data, given that the data are now publicly available. We will update the post with any reply.

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4 thoughts on “Authors retract meningitis paper over permission — but data are in a public database”

      1. It’s complicated. Some groups have very strict data-deposition policies – big public genome centers are among the most notable – that require them to release data ASAP regardless of whether it’s published. However, these data are still considered embargoed, and other researchers are supposed to wait for formal publication of the primary results before publishing their own analyses. Obviously this doesn’t always happen; I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first retraction I’ve seen where someone jumped the gun.

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