A retraction gets retracted — but the first author’s contract is still terminated

After issuing a retraction notice May 30 for a biomedical engineering paper, the journal has since pulled the notice, citing “a potential problem.”

After doing some digging, we’ve learned more about the “potential problem.”

Apparently, the retraction was requested by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. NTU has been investigating the first author for months, after it received an allegation about an unrelated manuscript. As a result, NTU terminated first author Hamidreza Namazi‘s contract as a research fellow earlier this year.

As part of the investigation, NTU began to look at Namazi’s other papers, and discovered several with potential problems — including this one, which NTU believes did not receive proper ethical approvals. So it contacted the journal to raise its concerns.

Namazi, however, told us that he and his colleague obtained approval from another organization, but didn’t make that clear in the paper — so the journal has retracted its retraction notice while it investigates Namazi’s claim.

In place of the original retraction notice, a notice now reads:

Following acceptance within International Journal for Numerical Methods in Biomedical Engineering, and after publication as an Accepted Article on Wiley Online Library on 30 May 2017, a potential problem has been identified concerning “Retraction statement: Mathematical-based modeling and prediction of the effect of external stimuli on human gait” (doi: 10.1002/cnm.2902). We are suspending further publication pending investigation.

Mathematical-based modeling and prediction of the effect of external stimuli on human gait” was published online July 2016, and has already been cited three times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science. In the study, the authors tested whether mathematical models could predict the effects of auditory stimuli on subjects’ gait.

The article is listed on the journal’s website with no retraction notice.

Here’s the original retraction notice:

The above article, published online on 1 July 2016 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the journal Editors and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. The retraction has been agreed following an investigation carried out by the authors’ institution, Nanyang Technological University, which revealed that no application for ethical approval was made to their Internal Review Board and no approval was granted prior to the work taking place. The article is to be retracted at the request of Nanyang Technological University.

In the study, the authors Hamidreza Namazi and Vladimir V. Kulish explicitly note they received IRB approval to conduct the research:

In this research, we did the experiments on subjects (30 male and 30 females) with the age of 25 ± 5 years old, height of 172 ± 10.2 cm and weight of 71.5 ± 13.3 kg. All subjects had the general health conditions without any mental disorder, and none of them received any medication before the experimentation.

Internal review board of university’s medical center approved all procedures for experimentations on human subjects. After interviewing with each subject and explaining the experiments, the informed consent was obtained. The methods used in this research were carried out in ‘accordance’ with the approved guidelines.

Here’s how the authors describe the procedure:

In order to collect the heel strike times, subjects wore a portable Stride Analyzer (SA-VI, B&L Engineering, Santa Ana, CA). The stride analyzer was attached to subjects’ right and left legs in order to collect data from both legs…Each subject was asked to walk in time over ground totally for 6 min. At first, subjects walked for 4 min without receiving any stimulus. This first period (without any external stimulus) is to collect data in order to compute the initial value of Hurst exponent, H. After that, white Gaussian noise was played and transferred to human through headphone for 2 min. So, subjects walk for 2 min while listening to white noise.

Namazi explained that he and Kulish got approval “from an organization not in Singapore.”

Actually in our paper we mistakenly wrote about IRB approval. We wrote that university medical center granted approval. As we were in NTU that time, everyone may think that NTU gave us approval. Since we copied this sentence from our another manuscript we wrote it mistakenly.

Once they realized the mistake, they asked the journal to change the text, Namazi said:

But journal told us that before us, NTU contacted the journal and ask for retraction of paper. Then, we told the journal that we have approval from an organization not in Singapore. They asked us to send them approval. But after one day before we sent the approval to them, they suddenly retracted the paper…They said they will do investigation but still we are waiting for their feedback.

A spokesperson for Wiley told us:

…I can confirm that the original retraction statement – published on 30 May in the Accepted Article queue on Wiley Online Library – has been updated to reflect a suspension in the retraction process. The process has been suspended in order to allow the Editors to review additional information from the authors relating to the case, prior to taking further action regarding the Retraction. As the process is ongoing the paper is still available on Wiley Online Library and is not currently showing as Retracted.

We asked what the “additional information” the publisher was reviewing:

We are not at liberty to disclose the details but I can confirm that we are reviewing their claim to have received IRB approval.

Tony Mayer, Research Integrity Officer at NTU, told us:

The background is that we had an allegation that a manuscript which Hamidreza Namazi had submitted (with co-authors) had a clear case of plagiarism.

Following an investigation we found this proved plus falsification and exceedingly dubious publication practices. On this basis and following our disciplinary procedures, Namazi, a Research Fellow at NTU, had his contract terminated. We then looked at his other publications to find statements such as “The Internal Review Board of the university approved all procedures and the informed written consent was obtained from subjects after we explained the study to them” with the clear implication that the university concerned was NTU…As we had no records of either applications to or approvals from our IRB the university has sought retraction of all papers by Namazi containing these untrue statements. He has objected to this action. The NTU strongly contends that if data were obtained from human subjects on these false [pretenses] then the data are inadmissible and so the papers have to be retracted. We have written to all publishers of the eight papers accordingly.

Update, 6/1/18, 1600 UTC: Namazi has had four more papers retracted, all in Scientific Reports (hat tip: John Tennant):

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