Today, Science has retracted a 2004 paper that’s been under scrutiny for years, despite the authors’ objections.
This paper has a long backstory: Recently, a report from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General surfaced that announced the agency had cut off the authors from funding. Last month, editor Marcia McNutt told us that the journal planned to retract the paper as soon as possible. Then, on January 21st, “just as we were going to press with the retraction,” said McNutt, the authors submitted a correction, which Science wanted to take some time to consider.
Here it is the retraction note:
Science is retracting the 7 May 2004 Report “RNA-Mediated Metal-Metal Bond Formation in the Synthesis of Hexagonal Palladium Nanoparticles” by Lina A. Gugliotti, Daniel L. Feldheim, and Bruce E. Eaton. After an investigation into this Report by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Office of Inspector General, NSF did not find that the authors’ actions related to it constituted misconduct. NSF nonetheless concluded that they “were a significant departure from research practices” and “a misrepresentation of data on which a conclusion was based.” In response to the NSF ruling, one of the authors, Daniel L. Feldheim, sent wording for a correction to Science. However, the Editors do not think a correction is appropriate given the concerns raised by the Inspector General’s report about what evidence was available to support the authors’ assertions at the time the paper was published. Hence, Science is issuing this Retraction instead. Author Gugliotti could not be reached for her concurrence in this matter. Authors Feldheim and Eaton do not agree to this Retraction. Science had previously published an Editorial Expression of Concern about the study, on Friday, 22 January, 2015, to alert readers to the fact that serious questions had been raised about the validity of the study’s results.
The paper has been cited 139 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — once more than when we last reported on it on January 21st.
McNutt told Jeffrey Mervis at Science Insider:
Corrections are for honest errors. We don’t want to do corrections for truly sloppy science.
We asked McNutt about the correction that the authors submitted. She declined to share the wording, but told us:
The authors have steadfastly claimed that the correct protocols for the experiment were later published in follow-up journal articles (hence their claim that no correction was needed). The NSF close-out report found that the original lab notebooks for the Science paper did not document the appropriate lab experiments and controls to assure us that this is indeed what the authors had done at the time that the work was submitted for publication to Science.
McNutt added that the authors simply had to establish they had the correct protocols for the experiment at the time they submitted the Science paper, and provide evidence for that, and the journal would have accepted a correction.
She also told us:
We do not want to cast [aspersions] on the later publications, which may be perfectly fine. And if so, they deserve priority in terms of publication. Hence the need to retract the Science paper rather than correct it based on the later work.
We have been unable to reach Feldheim and Eaton. The retraction follows years of effort by their former colleague Stefan Franzen, who has long been pushing for the record to be corrected.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, and sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post. Click here to review our Comments Policy.