Paper pulled when authors backtrack on identifying mad cow disease in Texas

Journal food protectionA journal is pulling a paper that reported a grain sample in Texas tested positive for mad cow disease after the authors asked to change the results to say the sample contained “animal protein prohibited for use in ruminant feed.”

Shortly after the paper was published in October, the authors contacted the Journal of Food Protection to retract the finding that the grain sample tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). After review, the journal decided to retract the entire paper, with the authors’ agreement, citing changes that “significantly affect” the findings.

JFP scientific editor Lauren Jackson filled us in on some details:

In early October 2015, JFP was contacted by authors Kyung-Min Lee and Timothy Herrman (Office of the Texas State Chemist; Texas A & M University) about errors and incorrect conclusions in their recently published paper “Evaluation of Selected Nutrients and Contaminants in Distillers Grains from Ethanol Production in Texas” [Journal of Food Protection, 78(10), 2015, 1861-1869]. At that time, they requested that JFP either withdraw or retract the paper, or republish the paper as an erratum after corrections were made.

Jackson told us more about the change the authors requested:

The original paper indicated that one of the sorghum dry distillers grains with solubles samples tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, but in the revised version, the authors changed the results to indicate that this sample contained “animal protein prohibited for use in ruminant feed”. A reason for the change was not provided.

The change was too significant to allow for a correction, she noted:

On review of the corrected paper by all four of the Scientific Editors of JFP, it was decided that the paper should be retracted since major findings of the original paper were changed. JFP subsequently contacted the authors and informed them of the decision to retract the paper. The authors were also informed that they could submit a corrected version of their paper to JFP, and that the paper would be sent out again for peer review. Both authors were in agreement with the decision and the retraction statement that was published in the November in JFP.

We asked Jackson how the errors came to light:

JFP was not provided specific details from the authors about the nature of the errors in the original paper. We were provided a corrected manuscript, but since this manuscript had different conclusions, we decided to retract the paper rather than publish the corrected version as an erratum.

The paper has not yet been cited, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

Here’s the note for the paper:

The article “Evaluation of Selected Nutrients and Contaminants in Distillers Grains from Ethanol Production in Texas” by Kyung-Min Lee and Timothy J. Herrman has been retracted by the authors and the Scientific Editors. The retraction is necessary owing to several corrections requested by the authors that significantly affect the findings.

We’ve reached out to Kyung-Min Lee and Timothy Herrman for more information and will update this post if we hear back.

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3 thoughts on “Paper pulled when authors backtrack on identifying mad cow disease in Texas”

  1. As reported here and in the JFP note, this sounds like a wording change–not a change in the findings but in how the authors described them. Please follow this story closely. At least three industries would be “significantly affected,” to use JFP’s term, if there was indeed evidence of BSE in the feed: the feed industry; the beef industry; and the food safety industry. Retractions of a paper should be for clear reasons of scientific accuracy. A mere wording change implies that the reasons for pulling the paper were more pragmatic and political than scientific. The potential conflicts of interest are numerous.

  2. Mad cow and “animal protein prohibited for use in ruminant feed” are vastly different things! This doesn’t smell right.

  3. Wouldn’t want them fancy college types stirring things up, getting folks all worried when there is absolutely nothing to be concerned about. Move along, folks–nothing to see here.

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