In the fall of 2015, out-of-work stem cell biologist Mavi Camarasa decided she had waited long enough. It had been three years since she and a colleague were, best they could tell, the first to successfully correct the most common cystic fibrosis mutation in stem cells derived from a patient.
But her former lab director, Daniel Bachiller, had blocked her from writing even a short report, she told Retraction Watch:
He said we are not submitting at this time, wait until [the project is] complete. “Wait, wait,” is the only answer I’d had from him ever.
Though she’d left the Spanish regenerative medicine lab in 2013 to take care of an ailing parent and had mostly been scooped by another group in April of that year, Camarasa thought she still might be able to get something out of the project. She hatched a plan to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse — an already accepted manuscript where all he would have to do is attach his name at the last minute.
But this story didn’t turn out exactly how she’d hoped — and illustrates how the pressure to publish can affect researchers at different levels in the lab.
First, she tried to get a methods paper accepted at Genome Biology, but was rejected on the grounds that it wasn’t a “significant enough advance.” She then decided to submit it to Stem Cell Research & Therapy. She told Retraction Watch that in August 2015 she emailed Bachiller to let him know; he responded by asking her not to submit a methods paper and to start over and rewrite a more complete paper for a journal with a higher impact factor. She refused, and that was the last she heard from him, she told us.
She forged ahead, got the paper accepted, and published it in February 2016 (the journal even waived its usual fees); however, a fight began “the day [Bachiller] found out,” Camarasa told us.
Now, Stem Cell Research & Therapy has retracted Camarasa’s paper, saying she and her co-author published data that did not belong to them.
Camarasa denies any wrongdoing, calling it “bullying” by her former boss. Bachiller — whose last-known position was at the Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies (IMEDEA), a marine biology-focused research institute on the island of Mallorca — has not responded to requests for comment.
On June 2, Stem Cell Research & Therapy issued the retraction notice:
This article has been retracted by the Editor because the authors do not have ownership of the data they report. A formal investigation conducted by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and Fundación de Investigación Sanitaria de las Islas Baleares Ramon Llull (FISIB) has concluded that the data reported in this article are the sole property of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) and the Fundación de Investigación Sanitaria de las Islas Baleares Ramon Llull (FISIB). The authors do not agree with this retraction.
University of California, Davis stem cell researcher and blogger Paul Knoepfler told us the paper could have had a major impact:
Correcting it in patient-derived stem cells is very cool and an important step, and it would have been big news in 2013.
We reached out to the CSIC to find out more about the investigation cited in the retraction notice. A spokesperson told us:
I can confirm that no researcher, either from within CSIC or from outwith CSIC, or from any other institution, has officially contacted us about the retraction of the article. Therefore, what I can tell you is that we have no more information on this subject.
Camarasa’s co-author on the retracted paper, Victor Galvez, who is currently a technician at a reproductive clinic, told Retraction Watch that he didn’t challenge the retraction to the journal but was sympathetic to Camarasa’s frustration:
She’s a good scientist. It’s a pity it ended this way.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
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