Researcher who sued to stop retractions earns his 7th

Mario Saad
Mario Saad

A diabetes researcher who sued to stop a publisher from retracting his papers has just received his seventh retraction.

The latest retraction for Mario Saad, who is based at the University of Campinas (Unicamp) in São Paulo, Brazil, is for a PLOS ONE paper (which was altered last year by a mega-correction). Although an institutional investigation found no evidence of research misconduct, the notice states:

the preparation of the figures falls below the standard of publication and therefore the authors and the editors have agreed that the correct action is to retract the article. 

Saad previously sued the American Diabetes Association (ADA) to remove expressions of concern from four of his papers published in the organisation’s flagship journal, Diabetes. However, all four of the papers were later retracted after the suit was dismissed in 2015.

Here’s the new retraction notice, issued July 8:

The authors and editors retract this publication [1] following an investigation into concerns around the data presented in several figures that were brought to the editors’ attention.

After the publication of the article, concerns were raised about Figures 2,4, 5 and 6. The authors stated that the wrong blots were included in several of the published figures and that the p-JNK blots in Figure 4B were inadvertently duplicated from a figure in an earlier publication. A Correction [2] was issued to address the errors identified. Following the publication of the Correction, additional concerns were raised regarding figures included in the original article and in the Correction. Upon follow up with the authors, the editors remain concerned about the following panels in Figure 2:

  • Figure 2D – B-actin: This panel duplicates the B-actin panel in Figure 2A.
  • Figure 2F- B-actin: The first band from the original blot for this figure was not included in the published panel.
  • Figure 2I – B-actin: Upon evaluation of the raw blot supplied by the author, the editors are concerned that the evidence supplied does not support the results reported in this figure.

An institutional inquiry has been undertaken at the University of Campinas (UNICAMP) in São Paulo, Brazil and while the investigation acknowledged errors in the preparation of the figures, they did not find evidence of research misconduct. However, the preparation of the figures falls below the standard of publication and therefore the authors and the editors have agreed that the correct action is to retract the article. The authors apologize to the scientific community and will seek to publish a corrected manuscript version corroborating the findings of this work.

The 2010 paper, “Atorvastatin Improves Survival in Septic Rats: Effect on Tissue Inflammatory Pathway and on Insulin Signaling,” has been cited 18 times, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science.

PLOS ONE spokesperson sent us this statement on the case:

PLOS ONE issued a Correction to address errors about several figures. After publishing the Correction, additional concerns were raised and the PLOS ONEeditors reached the decision to retract the article after completing an evaluation of the extent and nature of the additional concerns, as per the journal’s process.

The authors have stated that they will seek to publish a corrected version of the manuscript. PLOS ONE cannot comment on the form that a revised manuscript may take, or the venue or timeline for possible publication of a revised manuscript.

By our count, Saad now has seven retractions (four of which were preceded by expressions of concern (EOC)) and three EOCs.

After the Diabetes retractions, the ADA told Unicamp that it would not accept any papers authored by its staff until “appropriate corrective actions are taken,” a Unicamp spokesperson previously told The Scientist.

The institution is working to assemble an office dedicated to dealing with research integrity, the spokesperson noted.

Saad is not the only researcher to bring publishing disputes to the courthouse, who are only rarely successful — in a 2011 case, another author of a retracted paper managed to obtain $10,000 in legal fees and an apology from Elsevier.

We’ve reached out to Saad, and will update the post with anything else we learn.

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