Students withdraw report of private stem cell retreat

Master’s students have retracted a review of an internal meeting of stem cell researchers because it contained confidential information.

According to the Managing Director of the society, Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia (NRW), the event was not open to the public, and the authors had not contacted either the society or the scientists they cited before publishing the report.

Here’s the retraction notice for “A Report on the Internal Retreat Meeting of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia,” published online in Molecular Biotechnology on October 31 and retracted shortly after on December 14:

This article “A Report on the Internal Retreat Meeting of the Stem Cell Network North Rhine Westphalia” published in Volume 58, Issue 12, pages 861–864, DOI: 10.1007/s12033-016-9985-3 has been retracted at the request of the authors due to errors in the disclosure of confidential information. We, the Editorial board of Molecular Biotechnology, regret the oversight.

We contacted the Associate Editor of the journal for further detail about the specific errors made regarding “the disclosure of confidential information.” Joan Robinson, Senior Communications Manager at Springer, responded:

The paper was retracted at the request of the authors because the article inadvertently contained confidential information.

Robinson added:

We have no information on how the retreat was set up or organized. Because the authors asked that the paper be retracted, they must have recognized that there was an issue with the confidentiality of some of the information therein. We cannot provide any further information on this case.

Anne Do Lam-Ruschewski, Managing Director of the Stem Cell Network NRW, clarified that the information was confidential because the report was “an unauthorized publication of an internal meeting.” In contrast to reports available online detailing content from the society’s international meetings, Lam-Ruschewski told us:

…the Internal Retreat Meeting (as the name says) is not a public meeting which any interested person may attend, it is restricted to attendees from member institutions of the Stem Cell Network NRW. Neither the scientists cited in this report nor the Stem Cell Network NRW as organizer of this retreat were informed prior to its publication. The authors were therefore asked to retract this report.

According to the society’s website, the Stem Cell Network NRW is a government-funded initiative comprised of two working groups—one that focuses on biomedical science and the other on ethical, legal, and sociological issues:

In these groups top scientists, doctors, philosophers, theologians, sociologists and legal experts combine their expertise with a view to making stem cell research responsible and transparent.

We reached out to all three authors to find out how this confidential information got published. First author Evangelia Kontopoulou, from Ruhr-University of Bochum in Germany, responded on behalf of herself and her coauthors:

We are all Master students that we just wanted to do a review. At the present me and my co-authors we are in different countries working on our master thesis projects and unfortunately we are not in the position to give more information regarding our recent retraction. I would like to apologize for this on behalf of all of us.

The article has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

Hat Tip: Ralf Neuman

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