Unwitting co-author requests retraction of melatonin paper

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.54.58 PMNine years ago, a well-known pharmacologist hosted a researcher from another university in his lab. On a Saturday night last September, he learned while surfing Google Scholar that they had published a paper together.

Marco Cosentino, who works at the University of Insubria in Italy, know that Seema Rai, a zoologist at Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya in India, had collected data during during her six months in his lab, but had warned her they were too preliminary to publish. She published the data — on melatonin’s role in immunity — anyway, last summer in the Journal of Clinical & Cellular Immunology, listing Cosentino as the second author.

The day after he discovered the paper, Cosentino sent an email to the editor in chief of the journal, Charles Malemud, explaining why he did not approve of the publication:

The data used in the paper were collected at my research laboratory by Dr. Seema Rai during 2007 while she was visiting scholar at my lab at the University of Insubria in Varese (Italy), however they were used without my knowledge and permission. In previous discussions with Dr. Rai, my clear and definite opinion was that data were inconclusive and at least awaited further confirmation in replication experiments. Dr. Rai was therefore well aware that I would not agree with their publication in the present form.

I regret that I had to discover only now and by means of the web that a manuscript was nevertheless submitted and even accepted for publication. I never knew about this manuscript and I had no opportunity to revise the text and therefore I never approved it. Furthermore, I do not agree to be accountable for the work and I do not support its accuracy or integrity.

He added in the email (which he forwarded to us):

I kindly ask you to delete as soon as possible my name from the list of authors of the paper, as well as from all your related records.

In October, after some back and forth about the best course of action, Cosentino requested that the journal retract “Immunophysiological Significance for Differential Receptor Expression of Melatonin (Mel1aR/Mel1bR), Cytokine(s) (IL-2R/IL-10R/TGF-βR) and Tyrosine Hydroxylase (THR) in Lymphocyte Sub-Population: A Novel Crosstalk between Melatonin and Catecholamines.” The journal is not indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

Consentino and Malemud agreed on language for a retraction notice in November. But Rai hasn’t yet agreed to the retraction, so the notice hasn’t yet been published, Malemud told us:

She hasn’t signed on to the retraction. This is where the rubber meets the road. As far as she’s concerned, she’s done nothing wrong.

We contacted Rai, who said she does not agree with the choice to retract the paper. She told us she had intended to stay at Cosentino’s lab for a year, but left after six months for personal reasons. She said:

After my return to India I made several communication to [Cosentino] regarding the publication of at least the  part which was successfully completed but Professor Cosentino made denial by simply stating that the data even in five replicas were not up to the mark…

In March, after the retraction notice still hadn’t appeared, Cosentino wrote to Malemud:

I really do not understand which “final details” you are working out, and frankly speaking I’m not at all interested in anything except that such a forged paper will immediately disappear from the web.

Malemud told us he plans to publish the notice soon:

I’m pretty sure the formal retraction will appear in the issue we’re publishing this month or early next.

Cosentino said he is frustrated by the delay:

It is obvious that anyone might retrieve this paper e.g. while reviewing a submitted manuscript or even a grant application from my group. It will be never possible to establish whether, when and how it might happen, but clearly this is a serious possibility as long as that paper will remain out on the web.

In the meantime, Malemud told us Rai has submitted another paper to the journal:

As far as I can tell, the new paper does not have any other authors on it. She submitted this paper without any other people involved.

He’s deliberating with his editorial board over how to handle the new submission.

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7 thoughts on “Unwitting co-author requests retraction of melatonin paper”

  1. The journal is published by OMICS International, based in Hyderabad, India. This publisher is on my list. Normally OMICS International charges authors to withdraw published papers, and it usually accepts and publishes papers with little or no peer review.

    I’d be surprised if this article actually gets retracted. I don’t even see an expression of concern on the paper yet.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment! Actually I agree with you, as me too I will be very surprised in case any action will be put into effect by the journal.

      My records contain so far plenty of email correspondence between the EiC of the journal and me. Apparently, the tactic is so far just to delay and delay, nonetheless, in an early email (november 2015) he clearly stated that “Dr. Rai sent me an E-mail today in which she stated that she will not challenge the retraction of the JCCI paper”.

      For these reasons, the present statements by both dr. Malemud and dr. Rai to RW sound absolutely amazing!

      Very unpleasant and ridicolous story, indeed!

  2. So she doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong. Really. She hasn’t agreed to or signed onto the retraction. Instead of apologizing for using Cosentino’s name after he told her, apparently more than once, the work was premature, she submits it for publication without telling him before or after it is published. If he hadn’t stumbled on it he might still not know. She now has submitted another paper to the same journal yet. How can she expect anyone to have confidence in her work? Why would the journal even consider other work produced by her?

    1. Why would the journal even consider other work produced by her?

      It’s an OMICS journal. Willingness to pay a publication fee is what counts.

      1. I’m quite certain that “willingness” doesn’t count; demonstrated ability to pay counts (with the proviso that the demonstration consists of making the payment, and it not bouncing).

  3. Thank you very much to Retraction Watch for this post! I just would like to add a few information about why I as well as the other co-author Chandana Haldar (Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi) do not agree to be accountable for the work and we do not support its accuracy or integrity.

    MAJOR FLAWS include:

    * page 5, Figures – All the legends are mistakenly attributed. In the legends it is stated that n = 5 replications were performed, however according to our records only ONE sample was assayed in duplicate. Pretended significance of the differences is therefore NOT supported by any reproducibility of the data and of course neither by any statistical analysis;

    * page 5, Figures – In the legends it is stated that n = 5 replications were performed however, according to our records, samples from only 2-3 different subjects were assayed. Reproducibility and statistical significances therefore are NOT supported by the data;

    * page 6 and 7, Figures 5a to c and 6a to c – Again, in the legends it is stated that n = 5 replications were performed, however according to our records only samples from 2-3 different subjects were assayed. Statistical significances therefore are NOT supported by the data. Legends in Figure 5 are apparently misattributed. Moreover, as regards specifically Figures 6a to c, according to our lab records 2-3 samples (and NOT 5) for each treatment were assayed by PCR, however the final results were never recorded into the common archive and therefore I never had any possibility to examine the data;

    * page 4, Figure 1 – Figure legend states that 5 replicates were performed, however in our lab records we have only 3 experiments, which do not include treatments with different catecholamines. Moreover, statistical analysis as described in the legend makes no sense (e.g., which is the rationale supporting the comparison between catecholamines alone with melatonin alone? Catecholamines should be compared to untreated cells, and there is no difference at all), and in any case we had no possibility to check the results;

    * page 4 – In the methods used for cell proliferation, the use of 3H thymidine is mentioned, however no results are subsequently provided. Indeed, no experiments with 3H thymidine were ever planned, also because the technique is not available in our lab.

    Finally, additional concerns are represented by the failure of Dr. Rai to acknowledge: (i) the role of Prof. Maestroni, at that time director of the Laboratory for Experimental Pathology in Locarno (Switzerland), who substantially contributed to the conception and design of the work, and assisted Dr. Rai in performing melatonin assays; (ii) the role of the colleagues and staff of my lab, who extensively supported Dr. Rai in her work and performed many of the assays; and finally (iii) the fellowship grant that Dr. Rai received from the University of Insubria during her stay in my lab.

    The reason underlying the retraction request is, therefore, not only the failure of Dr. Rai to inform about the manuscript both me and at least one other co-author, i.e. Prof. Chandana Haldar (a reason which per se would suffice), but also that data as presented in the paper have major flaws which constitute *serious violations of scientific integrity*, namely fabrication and falsification.

  4. Seems RAI is listed as an assistant professor. The institution should probably double check her previous publications as well.

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