Twitter is abuzz today over allegations that a recent paper in Scientific Reports contains a blatant example of duplication.
According to the allegations, a group of researchers in Malaysia have used the same four images to represent some 30 cells at different stages of cell death. One researcher has even suggested the allegedly doctored images appear in three different papers.
Is this a manipulated image? See for yourself:
— Christophe🔬Leterrier (@christlet) June 10, 2016
The paper “Novel piperazine core compound induces death in human liver cancer cells: possible pharmacological properties” was published in April.
We contacted first author Nima Samie, affiliated with University of Malaya in Malaysia, who denied that the cells represented the same four images duplicated throughout the figure. Rather, all “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4” images look the same because each represents a cell in the same stage, Samie said:
Of course cells in each step should be same with each others. For instance, all cells which underwent blebbing must be same until they confirm as blebbed cells based on morphology of the cells. This test is 100% based on morphology of cells only…They can not be copy pasted cells but morphology is same.
We asked why the cells look exactly the same. He said:
With respect to others opinion but of course they should be same because they are in same stage of apoptosis. If different, they can not be considered as same category. We tried to capture the best images until most of the cells in each stage be same to each other so we could show at least enough number of cells are present to be reported. not only 1 or 2 cells.
But others aren’t convinced. Another researcher suggested that the duplication extends across multiple papers:
— Alexis Verger (@Alexis_Verger) June 10, 2016
Those other two articles are: “Mechanism of Action of the Novel Nickel(II) Complex in Simultaneous Reactivation of the Apoptotic Signaling Networks Against Human Colon Cancer Cells” published in frontiers in Pharmacology in January. “Mechanism of action of novel piperazine containing a toxicant against human liver cancer cells” appeared in PeerJ in March.
None of the papers have been cited yet, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.
A spokesperson for Scientific Reports told us:
We do not comment on papers that may or may not be under consideration for retraction or correction.
All three papers share a first author, and three co-authors. Like first author Samie, co-authors Sekaran Muniandy, Batoul Sadat Haerian, and M. S. Kanthimathi are all listed at the University of Malaya.
Update, June 10th, 12:00 PM EST:
PeerJ has placed an expression of concern on the paper it published:
Questions have been raised about some aspects of the figures in this manuscript. This expression of concern will remain in place while PeerJ staff investigate this matter further.
Yes, obvious copy / paste job. All red cells (#4) look the same. Several #1 cells look the same. Many more problems with other figures in these papers – almost every figure appears to have duplications, manipulations. FACS plots duplicated, Western blot with many splices and duplicated controls, rotated / manipulated panel in Figure 1 (normal cell = SNU-423 and also = SNU-475 with removed cell).
She noted that the paper itself seems to be duplicated:
This paper should not have passed peer review – three times.
Update, June 10th, 1:45 PM EST
On his blog at Science Translational Medicine, Derek Lowe points out other problems with the paper, and writes:
Enough. The authors should be ashamed of sending a manuscript out like this, because its mistakes are so numerous and so obvious as to make outright fraud – deliriously incompetent fraud – the first explanation that comes to mind. The reviewers, if there were any, should also be ashamed for letting something like this pass. Who looked at this stuff?
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