The three-year delay: Journal finally retracts paper based on made-up data

Three years after an investigation revealed a 2013 paper was based on fraudulent data, a journal has finally retracted it.

The paper, published in Journal of Hazardous Materials, was one of seven articles by a team at the Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH) in Chandigarh, India that contain fabricated data, according to an investigation by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research in New Delhi. (IMTECH is part of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.) Although it took one journal years to take action, another still has not retracted one of the seven flagged papers.

As we reported previously, in July 2014, PLOS ONE retracted three 2013 papers by the group after the committee investigating the papers “concluded that there are no data available underlying this study and thus that the published results are fabricated.”

The investigation also revealed that four other 2013 papers from Fazlurrahman Khan, the first author, and Swaranjit Singh Cameotra, the corresponding author, were affected. Two of the papers were published in the Journal of Petroleum and Environmental Biotechnology, an OMICS International journal, and two in Elsevier journals, Journal of Hazardous Materials and Chemosphere. OMICS International was included in the controversial (and now-defunct) list of possible predatory publishers compiled by librarian Jeffrey Beall.

In July 2014, The Hindu reported that Elsevier and OMICS were retracting the four papers. Five months later, in December, Chemosphere retracted “Degradation of 2,4-dinitroanisole (DNAN) by metabolic cooperative activity of Pseudomonas sp. strain FK357and Rhodococcus imtechensis strain RKJ300.”

And finally, three years after learning of the fabrication, Journal of Hazardous Materials has retracted “Aerobic degradation of 4-nitroaniline (4-NA) via novel degradation intermediates by Rhodococcus sp. strain FK48.”

As for the two papers published in OMICS’s Journal of Petroleum and Environmental Biotechnology (“In Silico Approach for the Bioremediation of Toxic Pollutants” and “Aerobic Degradation of 2-Hexanone by a Rhodococcus Sp. Strain MB-P1 via Novel Pathway”), one has disappeared from the journal’s website, and the other has still not been retracted. (Neither paper has been indexed.)

Here’s the retraction notice in Journal of Hazardous Materials:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors because of concerns about the validity of the results reported in this publication. Arising from a complaint by a third party questioning the veracity of the data in this paper an Official Committee of the Institute of Microbial Technology (CSIR), Chandigarh, India was formed to examine the circumstances of this publication. During the course of its investigation the Committee determined that a number of experiments had not actually been conducted to generate the associated data. This represents an abuse of the scientific publishing system and a clear violation of publishing ethics. All of the authors of the paper have asked that the paper be retracted.

Publication of an article in a peer-reviewed journal is an important building-block in the development of science. Elsevier has defined policies and ethical guidelines that have to be obeyed by authors and editors, and Elsevier takes its duties of guardianship over the scholarly record extremely seriously. Upon investigation, the Editors of the Journal of Hazardous Materials found the above concerns to be sufficiently compelling that they have decided that this paper should be retracted.

The paper has been cited 10 times, eight of which occurred after the investigation findings became public, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

And here’s the retraction notice in Chemosphere, published in December 2014:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editors-in-Chief.

The authors’ institute has recently become aware of the allegation that the data supporting several experiments which form the basis of this paper were fabricated. After an investigation, the institute found that there was no data available at all and has decided it is appropriate to retract the publication.

The Editors are grateful to Prof. Jim Spain of Georgia Tech for bringing the matter to their attention.

The paper has been cited three times — by the retraction notice and by two other papers after the investigation findings became public.

In July 2014, The Hindu revealed that Khan, the first author on all seven papers, had resigned from IMTECH. Two years later, the paper reported that Cameotra, the corresponding author on the papers, had been fired from IMTECH in July 2016.

We’ve reached out to Cameotra, the editors of the three journals as well as Elsevier. One of the editors-in-chief at Journal of Petroleum and Environmental Biotechnology told us he had no involvement with the two manuscripts. A spokesperson for Elsevier said the journal had “no additional comments beyond the retraction notice.” We will update the post if we hear anything further.

We’ve been tracking how quickly journals retract flawed papers and have found that the timeline varies — a retraction can take months, sometimes years. In the case of Anil Jaiswal, a cancer researcher based at the University of Maryland, some journals issued retractions or corrections within four to six months after the university asked them to take action, and others have still not acted.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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One thought on “The three-year delay: Journal finally retracts paper based on made-up data”

  1. The whistleblower is to be commended for his persistence.

    Two things can make a retraction go at light speed.

    1. High profile and media attention.
    2. There’s actually no misconduct and the authors have nothing to hide.
    Correlary to #2: if the authors have something to hide they will obfuscate by any means possible.

    Innocent of a misconduct allegation – can’t get it over with soon enough.

    Guilty – drag it out.

    3 years not bad

    My own case in which I am a whistleblower now nearly 5.

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