In 2005, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity found an obesity researcher had engaged in scientific misconduct.
More specifically, the ORI report revealed that Eric Poehlman, then based at the University of Vermont, had “falsified and fabricated” data in 10 papers. The 2005 report asked that the journals issue retractions or corrections to the papers. By 2006, six of those papers were retracted (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). In 2006, a judge sentenced Poehlman to one year and one day in prison for falsifying research data.
In 2015, we explored how long it takes a journal to retract a paper. We found that four of the 10 papers had still not been retracted — one appeared to be missing from Medline, another had received a correction (as the ORI report requested), and two had not been retracted or corrected (1, 2).
In April, a 1998 review was finally retracted from Obesity Research— now called Obesity. According to the managing editor, the journal realized it hadn’t retracted the paper after our editor Alison McCook contacted them in 2015. Here’s the retraction notice:
The above article, published in May 1998 in Obesity Research (now titled Obesity), has been retracted by the journal Editors-in-Chief, Eric Ravussin and Donna H. Ryan, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. The article is being retracted following the admission of Eric T. Poehlman that this article is based on falsified and fabricated research: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2005.154/epdf. Coauthor Tchernof was unaware of his actions and was not involved in any way.
The notice links to a letter written by Poehlman in 2005, in which he accepts “full responsibility for the falsifications and fabrications” found in the ORI investigation and exonerates his co-author:
My co-author was unaware of my actions.
“Effects of the menopause transition on body fatness and body fat distribution” has been cited 110 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science –– 60 times since the journal published the 2005 letter from Poehlman.
The managing editor of Obesity told us:
The fact that the article was never retracted was brought to light in August 2015 when we received an email from Alison McCook at Retraction Watch. She was working on a post checking the 10 publications flagged as having been affected by Dr. Poehlman’s misconduct. She noticed that the article in our journal (then titled Obesity Research and published by Nature) had never been retracted and wanted to know whether we had plans to do so.
We were unaware that the article was never retracted so we immediately contacted Wiley and asked them to do so. Unfortunately, we were having issues with an unresponsive Journal Publishing Manager at that time, and the retraction did not occur until recently.
We also reached out to the former editor-in-chief of Obesity Research to whom Poehlman addressed his 2005 letter to find out why the paper wasn’t retracted in 2005. She told us:
I thought everything had been retracted.
Another possible reason the paper fell through the cracks: The journal became Obesity in 2006 and switched publishers in 2008. We decided to tally Poehlman’s retractions in 2015 after Elizabeth Wager (a member of the board of directors of The Center For Scientific Integrity, our parent non-profit organization) decided to review his record. When we spoke to Wager about this issue in 2015, she noted that there are many possible reasons why journals don’t retract papers right away — based on a 2013 study she co-authored, one factor can be “journals switching publishers.”
The managing editor of Obesity agreed:
… that may explain it.
Hat tip: Rolf Degen
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