Paper retracted when co-author forgets he had published a figure before

A 2016 case study in Neurology exploring a “mystery case” has been retracted because four figures had already been published in a 2012 article.

The two papers have three authors in common, but according to the retraction notice, none could explain the duplicate publication. The notice states that Pierre Labauge, the corresponding author on the 2012 paper and the last author on the Neurology paper, said he “did not remember the first paper” when revising the recent one.

We contacted Labauge, head of the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Montpellier, France, but did not hear back.

The two papers focused on different features of leukoencephalopathy, a neurological condition associated with headaches and seizures. The 2016 paper identified a gene that causes a form of the disease, and the 2012 paper described a specific form of leukoencephalopathy.

There’s another wrinkle. The papers compared brain scans taken from a patient with the condition and his mother. But according to the notice, the authors of the earlier paper, published in the European Neurology, mislabeled the figures, incorrectly attributing one image to the mother and three to the son. Again, the authors said they had no idea how the image mix-up in the 2012 paper occurred.

Xavier Ayrignac, corresponding author on the Neurology paper but not an author on the European Neurology paper, told us that he didn’t know about the previous work. But after the journal alerted him to the issue, Ayrignaca doctoral student at the Institute for Neurosciences of Montpellier in Francesaid he “completely agreed” with the retraction.

Here’s the notice for “Mystery Case: CSF-1R mutation is a cause of intracranial cerebral calcifications, cysts, and leukoencephalopathy:”

The authors retract the article “Mystery Case: CSF-1R mutation is a cause of intracranial cerebral calcifications, cysts, and leukoencephalopathy” by X. Ayrignac et al., which appeared in the Resident & Fellow Section in volume 86, page e262, because 4 of the figures were previously published in another journal (European Neurology 2012;67:151–153).2 The earlier article was not cited and there were 3 common authors (Magnin, Berger, and Labauge) on the papers. In addition to the duplicate publication, 1 image attributed to the index case in this article was attributed to his mother in the earlier article and 3 images attributed to his mother in this article were attributed to the index case in the earlier article.

When asked for an explanation, the corresponding author, X. Ayrignac, replied that he was unaware of the earlier paper, but agreed to represent all authors in retracting the paper. Coauthors Lumbroso, Mouzat, and Carra responded that they agreed with the retraction and were also unaware of the earlier publication and thus had no explanation for the mix-up of the figures or duplication publication. Coauthor Magnin, one of the overlapping authors, agreed with the retraction and stated that he did not know how the mix-up of the figures occurred and that he missed catching it at the manuscript review. Coauthor Labauge (an overlapping author) also agreed to the retraction and stated to the corresponding author that when he submitted the earlier paper, he did not realize the figures were incorrectly attributed and did not remember the first paper when he revised the Ayrignac et al. paper. Coauthor Berger (an overlapping author) was not available for a written reply, but the corresponding author stated that this author had verbally agreed to the retraction. None of the authors could explain the mix-up of the figures or the duplicate publication.

The corresponding author, Ayrignac, admits that this publication is a duplicate publication and thus should not have been published even with the identification of a mutation in the CSF1R gene. With regard to the mix-up of the figures, Ayrignac believes there was a mistake in the previous paper and that the images published in Neurology were correctly attributed to the index case and his mother.

The paper, published online in November 2016, has been cited six times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Scienceonce by the retraction notice, three times by related letters, and once by a correction to an editorial accompaniment to the paper. (The editorial had incorrectly identified the disease described in the 2016 case study as an example of a rare neurological condition called Labrune syndrome.)

Patricia Baskin, the executive editor of the Neurology journals, told us that a reader spotted the duplication and alerted the journal.

Baskin explained that the editors didn’t catch the duplication because the plagiarism detection software, iThenticate, spots text, not image, overlap. Baskin noted, however, that “Neurology is in the process of adopting image duplication software, which might have picked up the duplicate images.”

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