A cancer biologist has retracted a 2016 News & Views article in a Nature journal, alleging that the journal tried to censor his writing by asking him to remove passages that criticized another journal (Cell).
Carlo Croce, the sole author of the article in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology from Ohio State University in Columbus, described the journal’s actions to us as “disgusting” and “worrisome.”
A spokesperson from the journal sent us this statement:
We regret that this situation occurred. We cannot comment beyond the retraction notice.
This isn’t Croce’s first retraction (we just found another recent one, in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, over image problems). He’s also co-authored multiple papers with Alfredo Fusco, a cancer researcher in Italy who has nine retractions under his belt, and is undergoing criminal investigation for scientific misconduct.
Here’s the retraction notice, published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology on October 4:
I wish to retract the News & Views article ‘Are circRNAs involved in cancer pathogenesis?’ (Nat. Rev. Clin. Oncol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nrclinonc.2016.113; 2016), owing to irreconcilable differences with the journal editors over correction of the text. Carlo M. Croce
The News & Views article, “Are circRNAs involved in cancer pathogenesis?,” was published online in July, and critiqued the “experimental approach” of a recent paper published earlier this year in Cell. But what raised eyebrows at the journal, according to Croce, is when he criticized Cell for even publishing “Oncogenic Role of Fusion-circRNAs Derived from Cancer-Associated Chromosomal Translocations:”
What is surprising is that this paper was published in Cell, which is widely considered to be one of the top journals in the fields of molecular, cell, and cancer biology. In this regard, editors and referees have an important role in ensuring the scientific data published in the primary literature is sound, and that the findings reported are substantiated by appropriately controlled experiments and robust data — that is, they must resist the ‘splash’ and focus on the science.
After the article was published online (but not yet in print), the journal removed this text in the revised version sent to Croce for approval. Croce said:
The choice for me was either to publish the revised version or to withdraw the paper. I chose the latter.
…I withdrew the paper because I am not accustomed to be censored.
A Cell spokesperson sent us this statement:
Cell has no objections to the paragraph in question and has not had any contact with the author of the News and Views Article or with the [journal’s] editorial office.
Retracting News & Views articles doesn’t happen often, but it does happen – in 2014, another Nature journal pulled a News & Views when the letter on which it was based was retracted. The year before, David Vaux – a member of the board of directors for our parent organization – wrote about why he chose to retract a News & Views he wrote after he “no longer had confidence in the findings on which it was based.”
We’ve also found another recent retraction of a paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), which lists Croce as the penultimate author.
Here’s the other retraction notice, issued by JBC in July:
This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Evaluation by the journal with image analysis software determined that in Fig. 5A, lanes 1–3 of the RB1 immunoblot were duplicated in lanes 4–6, lane 4 of the ERBB2 immunoblot was duplicated in lane 6, lane 5 of the STAT3 immunoblot was duplicated in lane 8, and lanes 1–3 of the actin immunoblot were flipped horizontally and reused in lanes 6–8. The authors state that RB1, ERRB2, STAT3, and actin in Fig. 5A were created from phosphor-chemiluminescent digital imaging. The authors also state that they have replicate data supporting the conclusions of Fig. 5, A and B. In Fig. 6B, evaluation by the journal of the original data determined that single cell background fluorescence was duplicated. The authors maintain that the concern is about a single background cell not a positive cell to show transfection efficiency and is inconsequential to proving transfection.
Croce told Retraction Watch that he doesn’t know why he was listed as an author of this paper, noting that the paper is about heart failure, and his area of expertise is cancer biology. He added:
I assure you I have done nothing on this paper.
Croce noted that researchers sometimes include him as an author for providing reagents, or mice, but said:
I have no clue on this paper.
We’ve reached out to Sathyamangla Naga Prasad, the JBC paper’s first author from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, to find out more information.
In 2014, we reported on two other retractions for Croce, which were for papers co-authored with Fusco. Last month, we also reported on a correction for Croce in PLOS ONE, which the journal labelled as “text overlap” rather than plagiarism; Croce denied that he plagiarized that paper.
In total, we’ve counted four retractions for Croce (including the News & Views article), as well as more than 10 corrections, some of which list Fusco as a co-author. Some corrections include problems with images.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
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