Nature Chemistry issues its first retraction

For the first time in its eight-year history, Nature Chemistry has retracted a paper, citing “data integrity issues.”

The 2010 paper, which explored how various iron-based molecules interact with water and ethanol, was withdrawn after the authors uncovered possible duplication in two images.

According to the retraction notice, the authors could not provide the raw data to confirm their findings and could not reproduce the figures because the experimental set-up had been dismantled. The authors subsequently requested the paper be retracted because the issues undermined “our full confidence in the integrity of the study.”

Here’s the retraction notice for “Charge transfer to solvent identified using dark channel fluorescence-yield L-edge spectroscopy”:

We the authors are retracting this Article as we are unable to explain the presence of data in three of the spectra; namely, Figure 2a (hemin in ethanol) and Figure 2c ([Fe(bpy)3]2+ in water and in acetonitrile). The spectra in Figures 2a and 2c feature data in the 730 eV to 735 eV region that appear to have been duplicated from other regions of the spectra. We are unable to provide raw data for this region for any of the three spectra and we are unable to attempt to reproduce the spectra under the same conditions originally reported because the original beamline (U41-PGM) that we have used to conduct these experiments has been dismantled. The data integrity issues undermine our full confidence in the integrity of the study and we therefore wish to retract the Article.

The paper has been cited 53 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The paper was the focus of a News & Views  in Nature Chemistry in November 2010. The paper was also the subject of two letters to the editor in 2012 (1, 2). In both letters, researchers questioned the interpretations in the 2010 study. In the same issue, the authors responded to the letters, acknowledging the complexities of the analysis and defending their interpretation. The authors also proposed an experiment that may resolve any lingering questions.

An erratum appeared on arXiv in May and was updated in mid-June, calling attention to the upcoming retraction:

The co-authors request retraction of the original Nature Chemistry …. article and the editor agreed

A spokesperson for Nature Chemistry also confirmed that this retraction is the journal’s first and that “it is an author-led retraction.”

We reached out to both corresponding authors on the paper—Emad Aziz, based at Helmholtz Center Berlin and at the Free University of Berlin, and Majed Chergui, professor at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland but have not heard back. The paper has been discussed on PubPeer since December 2016.

One commenter pointed to “a major issue with the data in figure 2.”

Another commenter, who signed the note as the authors, “Aziz et al.,” responded, explaining that they had already observed the issue with the figure and were “in discussion with the editor.” The commenter wrote that the authors are “sure” about the original data and thought perhaps the issue occurred “during the graphical preparation in the final figures.”

The commenter also noted that there was no data manipulation and that their results have been reproduced by other groups.

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