Former rising star found guilty of misconduct issues 2nd retraction

A once-lauded researcher in the field of infectious disease — who has since been found guilty of misconduct — has retracted a second paper.

Last year, the University of Dundee in Scotland investigated and ultimately concluded that Robert Ryan — whose work focused on infections that can be deadly in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis — had committed “serious research misconduct,” affecting multiple publications. After appealing the decision, Ryan resigned.

We covered his first retraction earlier this month, which cited multiple instances of image duplication. Now Ryan has retracted his second paper, published in 2011 in Journal of Bacteriology, also due to image problems.

Here’s the retraction notice:

There were errors in the construction of Fig. 2A and C, where the incorrect panels were used to represent K279a, K279a + AX21, raxH + AX21, and ax21 (p0387Y22A). We apologize for these errors and retract this paper due to this data misrepresentation.

The Ax21 Protein Is a Cell-Cell Signal That Regulates Virulence in the Nosocomial Pathogen Stenotrophomonas maltophilia” has been cited 18 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, formerly part of Thomson Reuters.

We contacted Ryan, who told us:

I believe the retraction statement and the posts on Pubpeer explain everything… I did write to the journal Editor in Chief to highlight the errors before they appeared on Pubpeer. All the original data was supplied to the journal to show it was a labeling issue of the images. We asked the journals advice before carrying out this action.

Ryan also noted:

… we have now provided the strains and information to independent scientists to republish.

The paper was flagged on PubPeer in March 2016 by users who pointed out potential duplications. A commenter labeled “author” thanked the users for their comments and explained that the authors “approached the Journals with all the concerns raised above.” The author then addressed the users’ concerns in detail:

From reviewing the data, there doesn’t appear to be any issue with the images used in Figure 1A. However, there does appear that incorrect images placed in figures of Figure 2A and Figure 2C. We have provided the original correct images seen in the lab notes (attached to this message).

To strengthen our case if required we can provide repeated experiments shown in subsequent lab notebooks by an independent lab member. We would also like to stress that other groups have verified some of the results presented in the manuscript since its publication. We can point you to these articles or get a statement from the lab that repeated the experiment with the strains if required.

We also have attached the high quality images for K279a, K279a + AX21 and ax21 (p0387Y22A) which were misrepresented in Figure 2. Unfortunately, the first author (Yvonne McCarthy) who carried out the experiments will not support a correction and we therefore would like to provide a statement for retraction of this manuscript. We would very much hope that the Journal would allow us to republish the article correcting these issues.

Over the years, Ryan has won many prestigious awards for his research, including the Society for General Microbiology’s Fleming Prize, the Lister Prize fellowship, and the RSE Patrick Neill Medal. He was also recognized as an EMBO Young Investigator in 2015, but the program withdrew his name last year.

Ryan has three corrections (which we’ve covered here and here), and several other papers questioned on PubPeer. In one, an “author” acknowledges the concerns, and notes that the authors have contacted the journal to request a correction.

Hat tip: Kerry Grens

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3 thoughts on “Former rising star found guilty of misconduct issues 2nd retraction”

  1. The retraction is of a paper that was written by authors all of whom were in Ireland at the time. While the first author did go on to Scotland, perhaps this should be tagged as an “Ireland retraction” rather than a “UK Retraction.”

    1. Ooops. You’re right – third author. That makes the case for “Ireland Retraction” even stronger. Thank you.

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