Neuroscience journal retracts expression of concern 15 years after investigation

Here’s something we don’t get to write about often: A journal has retracted an expression of concern (EOC) more than 15 years after issuing it.

What took so long? Apparently, the European Journal of Neuroscience (EJN) just recently learned about a review carried out by the author’s previous institution, which concluded that she had not committed misconduct.

Let’s take a look at the retraction note of the expression of concern, which was published last month:

The above Comment, published in European Journal of Neuroscience in Volume 12, p. 4153 (doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2000.00330.x), has been withdrawn by agreement between the author, the journal Editors in Chief, John Foxe and Paul Bolam, and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The original version of this Comment ‘Expression of Concern’ published by D. Amaral has been withdrawn by the Publisher in relation to the paper: ‘Organization of connections of the basal and accessory basal nuclei in the monkey amygdala’ by Eva Bonda, published in Volume 12, pp. 1971-1992 (doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2000.00082.x). The review carried out at the University of California at Davis in December 2001 (brought to the publisher’s attention in February 2016) concluded that the allegation against Eva Bonda described in the commentary ‘Expression of Concern’ by D. Amaral did not meet The Office of Research Integrity’s definition of research misconduct, and was not pursued further.

Here’s some of the (paywalled) text from the EOC, published in 2000 by David Amaral, a professor of psychiatry at UC Davis, Bonda’s former advisor:

The data described in this paper were produced by my students and me at the University of California, Davis…The publication of the single-authored paper was totally unauthorized. Eva Bonda was a postdoctoral fellow in our laboratory. She had access to the preparations that were described in the paper. However, she did not carry out any of the experimental procedures involved in making the tracer injections reported in this paper. These injections were made by other students in the laboratory and me. Moreover, other than processing the tissue from a small minority of the reported cases, it was the technical staff of our laboratory rather than Eva Bonda that carried out the histological processing of the reported experiments.

In the original EOC, Amaral called the publication of the original data a “serious breach of scientific ethics.” He added that although the disputed paper mentioned his grant, he cannot guarantee its presentation is “accurate” and that its interpretation is “reasonable.” He wrote:

Again, this paper was published entirely without my authorization, or participation in its production.

Amaral said in the EOC that the original paper acknowledged his colleague — Joseph L. Price, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri — for his help with preparing and publishing the manuscript. Amaral quoted Price saying the following:

I very much regret that this paper has been published, and especially that Eva Bonda included a whole note thanking me for ‘reviewing the paper before submission.’ The material that the paper is based on was taken inappropriately from David Amaral’s laboratory and I did not condone or encourage its publication.

Amaral declined to comment on the case when we contacted him last month.

The original paper, “Organization of connections of the basal and accessory basal nuclei in the monkey amygdala,” has been cited eight times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. Its expression of concern has not yet been cited.

We reached out to Paul Bolam, emeritus professor of anatomical neuropharmacology & senior scientist at the University of Oxford, UK, and co-editor-in-chief of EJN, who said the journal was not informed about the outcome of the investigation at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) until very recently:

A review was carried out at the University of California at Davis in December 2001 which concluded that the authorship dispute did not meet the [U.S. Office of Research Integrity’s] definition of research misconduct. However, the output of this review was not communicated to EJN/Wiley until February 2016, as a result of which we are now putting the record straight.

We also heard from Price, who is mentioned in the original EOC and told us that Bonda came to work with him after she left Amaral’s lab:

After Eva joined my lab, we did several experiments together. She was working on the manuscript of the paper that was eventually published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, and asked me to read it and make suggestions. I did so. My memory is unclear at this point, but I believe that I thought it needed more work before it could be submitted for publication. I was initially unaware that she was planning to publish it independent of David Amaral.

Price added:

Subsequently, the situation developed in two ways. Conflicts arose between Eva and me, and also between her and other members of my lab that I had a high regard for. At the same time I became more aware of the problem with the data that she had brought from David Amaral’s lab, and with Eva’s determination to publish it by herself. Eventually both problems together rose to an unacceptable level, and I had to tell her to leave my lab.

Price said he didn’t know what the UC Davis investigation found, but said it was “remarkable” and “unfortunate” that the retraction of the expression of concern came so long after the initial publication.

UC Davis declined to comment on the details of the case, and its director of research compliance & integrity, Craig Allison, said the institution can’t publicly disclose the outcome of the investigation due to “privacy and confidentiality restrictions.”

Although we don’t get much of an opportunity to write about retractions of EOCs, they do happen — take this example from 2003 in the New England Journal of MedicineMiguel Roig, a professor of psychology at St John’s University in New York City, recently carried out a content analysis of the EOCs published in the last five years, and presented his findings at the 4th World Conference on Research Integrity in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Roig, a member of the board of directors of our parent non-profit organization, told us that only a few EOCs were lifted or resulted in a retraction, but said the fact that

only a few EoCs resulted in any subsequent action on the part of the journal may be understandable [in my opinion] because investigations, especially those of alleged misconduct, can take years to carry out.

We’ve reached out to Bonda, who has since founded a company called “NeuroAisthesis®,” according to her LinkedIn page, and is now based in Paris, France. We’ll update the post with anything else we learn.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our new daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.

One thought on “Neuroscience journal retracts expression of concern 15 years after investigation”

  1. The rationale for this is not clear nor understandable to me as an expert on ORI policy (former Associate Director for Investigative Oversight when I was in ORI, 1989-2006). The communication by ORI to the University that the issue was an “authorship dispute” that does not fall under ORI’s definition of research misconduct (see should have been irrelevant to the University’s determination of whether the alleged act (someone writing a paper based on work from the lab on which they had no role in the experiments) constituted an unethical act (misconduct) under the University’s definition.

    The ORI policy and statement should also have been irrelevant to the journal editor in determining whether the author did not qualify as an author under the journal or ICMJE policies, and thus the author may have been unethical in publishing the work of others in the lab. Thus, it is not clear to me why the Expression of Concern was retracted recently by the editor, without any mention of an possible editorial retraction of the original paper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.