Tomato study didn’t get co-author okays, includes unreliable data

scientia-horticulturaeA journal has retracted a paper examining the traits of drought-resistant tomatoes after an investigation at the first author’s institution in Italy found a number of problems.

For starters, the first author — Maria Riccardi of the National Research Council of Italy-Institute for Agricultural and Forest Systems in the Mediterranean (CNR-ISAFOM) in Ercolano, Naples, Italy — apparently submitted the paper without consulting the study’s four other listed co-authors. What’s more, according to the retraction notice in Scientia Horticulturae, the paper’s description of the experiment “does not reflect the real conditions under which the data was collected,” rendering the findings invalid.  

Riccardo d’Andria, CNR-ISAFOM’s former director who conducted an investigation into the case, said Riccardi had apologized for the incident, and the institute had taken no further action against her apart from the retraction.

As part of the probe, said d’Andria, he spoke to all the paper’s listed authors, which confirmed that

other authors weren’t informed about the publication

and that the

statistical tests weren’t very well done.

Here’s the retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor.

After acceptance of the above manuscript, it has been found that a number of irregularities occurred, placing the accepted validity of the manuscript in doubt. The following facts have emerged:

Of the five authors, four (Albrizio, Patan, Barbieri, Pulvento) did not have any direct input into the manuscript, and/or were not informed of it prior to publication.

After investigation by the Director of CNR-Istituto per i Sistemi Agricoli e Forestali del Mediterraneo (Naples, Italy) it was concluded that the description of the methodology used in the work as stated in the manuscript to explain the Brigade cv experiment is incorrect; it does not reflect the real conditions under which the data was collected. This incorrectness does not apply to the experiments carried out on the two tomato landraces Locale di Salina and Pizzutello di Sciacca. Results referring to Brigade cv are consequently inaccurate. Consequently the statistical analysis is invalid and unreliable deductions have been reported in the discussion and conclusions.

The original paper, “Drought stress response in long-storage tomatoes: physiological and biochemical traits,” was published in March, 2016.

One of the study’s co-authors, Rossella Albrizio (also at CNR-ISAFOM), declined to comment on the situation and referred us to d’Andria, saying that the

most important thing is that the retraction was issued.

When we reached Riccardi by phone, she asked to send her queries by email; she has not yet responded. 

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