A scientist who sued his employer for millions of dollars has earned two more retractions, for papers that had already been flagged by the journal.
Kumar sued his employer, George Washington University, for $8 million, alleging emotional distress when they put him on leave from his position as department chair following a finding of misconduct. That suit was settled last year, for undisclosed terms.
The two newest retractions in the Journal of Biological Chemistry — which tagged the papers with Expressions of Concern last year — both state that, according to Kumar, the problematic figures were assembled by “specific co-authors” — unnamed — in his lab. Here’s the first notice:
This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Upon becoming aware of concerns raised regarding errors with respect to Fig. 3B, the authors are withdrawing the paper and apologize for these errors. The senior author states that the experiments and the final assembly of Fig. 3B were performed by specific co-authors from his laboratory. The authors state that the potential issues raised with Fig. 3B do not affect the scientific conclusions of this work.
“Stimulation of inducible nitric oxide by hepatitis B virus transactivator protein-HBx requires MTA1 coregulator” has been cited 29 times since it was published in 2010, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.
Here’s the notice for “Regulation of NF-κB circuitry by a component of the nucleosome remodeling and deacetylase complex controls inflammatory response homeostasis,” also published in 2010:
This article has been withdrawn by the authors. Upon becoming aware of concerns raised regarding errors with respect to Fig. 4B, the authors are withdrawing the paper and apologize for these errors. The senior author states that the experiments and the final assembly of Fig. 4B were performed by specific co-authors from his laboratory. The authors state that the potential issues raised with Fig. 4B do not affect the scientific conclusions of this work.
The paper has been cited 41 times. In 2013, a reader on PubPeer left a query about figure 4B.
We contacted Kumar; his lawyer forwarded us Kumar’s responses.
Kumar told us that, even though the paper’s conclusions remain valid:
…the paper was withdrawn by the authors since the journal would not permit correction using a repeat experiment or a partial withdrawal of the specific figure. The authors believe, had the journal allowed either of these options, that paper would not have needed to be withdrawn.
We asked for more information about the “specific co-authors” involved. Kumar told us:
Certain confidentiality issues prohibit us from identifying specific authors.
We also inquired about whether there was any misconduct involved in either paper:
No, there has been no finding of federal scientific misconduct associated with these papers.
We also contacted Suresh Pakala, a co-author on both papers (including one as first author), to learn more. Pakala is now based at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in India.
As part of his lawsuit, Kumar had argued GWU relieved him of his chair duties without following the correct procedure, following a finding of misconduct in his lab. He also suggested that the university had leaked confidential information about an investigation into his work, or at least failed to keep that information from being posted in a comment here on Retraction Watch.
The settlement between GWU and Kumar raised questions over whether private universities that receive Federal funds can claim the same “official immunity” that the government enjoys, which a judge had allowed in this case.
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