Author duplicated a figure in three papers; two get retracted

Two journals have retracted two papers by the same group within months of each other, after editors were independently tipped off that they contained duplicated figures representing different experiments.

The two papers were published by PLOS ONE and The Egyptian Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (EJBMB) in 2015 and 2014, respectively. According to the PLOS ONE paper’s corresponding author, last author Saad A. Noeman from Tanta University in Egypt used the same Figure 1 in both papers, along with another 2013 paper in EJBMB.

Corresponding author Yasser S. El-Sayed, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology at Damanhour University in Egypt, told us he learned of this issue after a reader brought the figure manipulation and duplication concerns to PLOS ONE’s attention.

El-Sayed said that he tried to figure out what had happened.

According to El-Sayed, Noeman told him that some “errors occurred” while he was preparing Figure 1 in the PLOS paper, but he didn’t have access to the raw data. In other words, El-Sayed said,

The raw data of Fig. 1 was lost!

Noeman asked to resolve the issue by requesting to withdraw Figure 1 from the article. (We reached out to Noeman and will update the post if we hear back.)

El-Sayed was not satisfied with Noeman’s explanation, especially after he learned the reader had previously alerted EJBMB and Noeman to the figure duplication issue in the two EJBMB papers, but Noeman “continued to use the same figure in our collaborative research,” El-Sayed said.

Given this, El-Sayed and the other two co-authors (Mohamed A. Lebda and Mohammed Hassinin), along with PLOS ONE, decided to retract the article. Here’s the retraction notice for “Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) Root Extract Regulates the Oxidative Status and Antioxidant Gene Transcripts in CCl4-Induced Hepatotoxicity” published in PLOS ONE in 2015 and retracted in March:

The authors and editors retract this publication [1] due to concerns about the data presented in Figure 1. After the publication of the article, we were notified of concerns about Figure 1. Specifically, it was brought to our attention that Figure 1 appears to be composed of multiple gel fragments spliced together in a single image. Furthermore, this figure was published previously in two articles in The Egyptian Journal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology [2] [3], where the data were reported to represent different experiments. One of these articles was subsequently retracted due to these same concerns. The authors were not able to provide the original, uncropped gel images used to generate this figure or to reproduce the results using the same experimental conditions. In light of these concerns, the authors and the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article. Note that the last author’s name is misspelled on the published article. The correct spelling is Saad A. Noeman.” Chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) Root Extract Regulates the Oxidative Status and Antioxidant Gene Transcripts in CCl4-Induced Hepatotoxicity.

The 2014 paper in EJBMB was retracted a few months earlier in 2016 — also over concerns with the first figure. Here’s the notice for “CCl4-induced hepatotoxicity: Protective effects of carnosine on peroxisome proliferator – activated receptor gamma gene expression , genotoxicity and oxidant / antioxidant status in rats:”

The article entitled : CCl4-induced hepatotoxicity : Protective effects of carnosine on peroxisome proliferator – activated receptor gamma gene expression , genotoxicity and oxidant / antioxidant status in rats by : Nema A.Soliman and Soad A.Noeman which was published in EJB MB Volume 32 NO1 , 115-131 , 2014 was retracted by the editor because of the discovery of manipulation in Fig1 It was also appeared in retracted paper before in the same Journal .

Although the two notices were published several months apart and involved the same issue, a spokesperson for PLOS ONE told us that the two journals “did not collaborate” on the retraction:

The issues involved were quite apparent.

PLOS ONE also confirmed that, “a reader informed PLOS of the issue.”

El-Sayed said that his involvement with Figure 1 was minimal:

I just sent the Figure to Wiley Editing Service, which only adjusted it to meet the specifications of PLOS ONE journal.

Even so, El-Sayed acknowledged that all authors are ultimately responsible for what is published:

We understand that it is the responsibility of all authors. Therefore, I and other co-authors “Lebda and Hassinin” found that the image manipulation of Fig. 1 by Dr. N[oe]man necessitates retraction of the paper. It is impossible to repeat these findings with the same figure published in other two papers …

El-Sayed apologized for the figure duplication:

We sincerely apologize to science, and to the editors and readership of PLOS ONE.

I hope that the Scientific Community understands that and does not affect my research and scientific life.

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