Nine 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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