A prominent psychiatry researcher is dismissed. What’s happening to his papers?

Alexander Neumeister. Source: Yale School of Medicine

After a prominent researcher was dismissed due to multiple instances of misconduct in his studies, how are journals responding?

When an investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found multiple issues with the work of psychiatry researcher Alexander Neumeister, New York University (NYU) Langone Medical Center shut down eight of his studies. (Disclosure: The author of this post is an NYU journalism student, but has no relationship with the medical school.) The agency concluded the studies, which involved using experimental drugs to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were tainted by lax oversight, falsified records, and inaccurate case histories, according to the New York Times. (Neuroskeptic also recently analyzed the case.)

We reached out to the journals that have published Neumeister’s papers, to ask if these recent events have caused them to take a second look at his work. Several have responded, with some noting they plan to investigate, or will do so if asked by the institution. But many believe there is little cause for concern.

When asked if the Journal of Nuclear Medicine planned to investigate Neumeister’s 2012 paper, Editor-in-Chief Dominique Delbeke told us:

No, it is a different topic but the integrity of the senior author is in jeopardy because he did not follow-up on the patients he enrolled in the NYU trial about a new treatment on patients with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Age Effects on the Serotonin 1B Receptor as Assessed by PET Imaging” has been cited nine times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

CNS Drugs does not plan to take any action on a 2013 review co-authored by Neumeister, as Kate Palmer, co-editor-in-chief, told us:

Having looked into this issue, I do not feel that it is necessary to retract the article by Dr Neumeister and colleagues that was published in CNS Drugs in 2013. This article was a review article that was invited by our editors. It discusses the findings from studies by many researchers (not just Dr Neumeister’s group) who have looked into the neurobiological basis of post-traumatic stress disorder and how this information could be used to developed targeted drug therapies for the disorder. Indeed, of the 194 references cited in the review, only two have Dr Neumeister listed as a primary author, while one sentence describes some unpublished work from his group (not related to the administration of drugs). As such, I do not feel that the article in CNS Drugs reports significant amount of work performed by Dr Neumeister, related to the issue highlighted by the New York Times, that is likely to be fraudulent or misleading.

Recent Progress in Understanding the Pathophysiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” has been cited 16 times.

The Journal of Depression and Anxiety also told us they believe The Role of BDNF-TrkB Signaling in the Pathogenesis of PTSD,” requires no action. Editor-in-Chief Peter Roy-Byrne said in an email:

This was not a research study publication but merely an editorial discussing other published studies and possible hypotheses that could be pursued in the future.  So there is nothing to check on.

The paper has not been indexed by Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

In response to questions about two papers by Neumeister in Psychoneuroendocrinology, co-Editor-in-Chief Robert Dantzer told us:

We are not aware of any investigation concerning the previous non-pharmacological work carried out by Dr. Neumeister prior to the clinical trial episode described in the NY Times. Psychoneuroendocrinology published 2 articles including 1 original research article and 1 review paper authored by Dr. Neumeister and his colleagues. These articles were submitted to our usual editorial process and reviewed by several expert colleagues who did not raise any flag concerning possible violation of protocols or fabrication of data.

In a follow-up, the journal’s other co-Editor-in-Chief, Ned Kalin, added:

Robert and I will discuss this further.

The original research paper, “Translational Evidence for a Role of Endocannabinoids in the Etiology and Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” has been cited eight times. The review, “Linking Plasma Cortisol Levels to Phenotypic Heterogeneity of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder,” has been cited 12 times.

Other journals, however, have indicated that they are taking a second look at Neumeister’s work.

The Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, which has published four papers co-authored by Neumeister, provided a relatively lengthy response. Here’s what we heard from Ulrich Dirnagl, who is currently on the editorial board, but was the Editor-in-Chief during the years in which Neumeister’s papers were published:

Thank you for alerting us that the Neumeister case may have implications for publications in the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism (JCBFM).

I am responding, since the papers on which Dr. Neumeister appears as co-author where published while I was still Editor in Chief (together with Martin Lauritzen).

Although I followed the Neumeister case (because it was featured on Retraction Watch!), I did not make a connection to JCBFM as I was not aware of his co-authorship.

Dirnagl also wrote that they were already reaching out to his co-authors for more information:

All cases involve methods-oriented PET studies by the Yale PET group (this is why I did not realize that there may be a connection to our journal).

As a consequence, we are now contacting the corresponding authors of those articles to clarify what the role of Alexander Neumeister in those studies was, and whether the concerns raised by the FDA might have implications for their articles.

We will contact you as soon as we have further information.

The four papers are:

Peter Bandettini, Editor-in-Chief of NeuroImage, told us:

I was not aware that this person had published in NeuroImage. We will certainly investigate as we take these things extremely seriously.

Bandettini added that the journal would be willing to work with the affiliated institutions should one of them approach the journal:

The primary issue in the study referred to in the New York Times appears to be that of proper informed consent and study protocol during a neuro-active drug-intervention study.  The study published in NeuroImage involved measurement of brain function, with a PET injection containing a radioactive tracer, and there is  a clear and explicit statement in the paper regarding consent (“All participants signed a written consent according to a protocol approved by the Yale Human Investigation Committee and the Yale-New Haven Hospital Radiation Safety Committee.”).  That said, if we are contacted by Yale or NYU regarding the study published in our journal we would be happy to work with them in accordance with our usual processes to investigate and resolve any concerns.

Neumeister is the last author on the paper “Decreased Norepinephrine Transporter Availability in Obesity: Positron Emission Tomography Imaging with (S,S)-[11C]O-Methylreboxetine,” which has been cited eight times.

Neumeister is the last author a 2014 paper in Neuropsychopharmacology; Editor-in-Chief Bill Carlezon told us:

We are working with our publisher to devise the best course of action.

Cannabinoid Type 1 Receptor Availability in the Amygdala Mediates Threat Processing in Trauma Survivors” has been cited four times.

Senior communications officer at the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry, Elaine Devine, told us:

As he was indeed a co-author in a work published in the World Journal of Biological Psychiatry in 2011,  the Editors will now consider the article in this new context. I will be in touch to let you know the outcome of their investigation in due course.

Neumeister’s “Serotonin 1B receptor imaging in pathological gambling” has been cited 11 times.

We’ve reached out to several other journals that have published Neumeister’s papers, and will update as we learn anything further.

Update 7/18/2016 11:05am eastern: We’ve also received a statement from Rhiannon Bugno, the managing editor for Biological Psychiatry:

We are currently exploring the issues related to Dr. Neumeister’s research.

Here are the four publications by Neumeister in the journal:

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5 thoughts on “A prominent psychiatry researcher is dismissed. What’s happening to his papers?”

  1. If an anomalous and unintentional mistake is responsible for serious errors in the publication, then it would seem unnecessary to scrutinize the researcher’s other publications. If it is either one of many mistakes or deliberate fraud, further scrutiny is appropriate and the FDA’s wider investigation is understandable. Unfortunately, it seems unwise to assume the best of an author’s integrity in such circumstances given that the majority of retractions result from misconduct by prominent researchers, and especially considering there are direct ramifications for human health. A pattern of research conduct warrants scrutiny of opinion/viewpoint pieces as well; after all, what are the grounds for inviting one person over another to write a commentary or review article in the first place? If we cannot trust the person to analyze their own data, how can we trust them to analyze the literature?

  2. Dr. Alex Neumeister is currently working as a professor at The Royal Ottawa Hospital in Ottawa, ON Canada and is due to present at our University on December 1st.

    DEC 1 FRI
    Neuroimaging will inform the next generation treatments for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
    Presenter: Dr. Alex Neumeister , The Royal Ottawa Hospital
    Date & TimeFriday December 1st, 2017 / 10:00 am – 11:00 am
    Location: Ottawa, ON Canada. Rm 360 Tory Bldg, Carleton University

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