Author retracts 2009 chemistry paper with “heavily doctored” images

A researcher has retracted a 2009 chemistry paper after discovering that a figure had been “inappropriately edited.”

According to the journal, a reader brought the images in question in Figure 1 to the editors’ attention last September. Timothy P. Lodge, distinguished professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis — and editor of Macromolecules through December 2017 — told Retraction Watch:

We determined that they were, at best, heavily doctored.

Lodge said that the journal contacted the paper’s corresponding author, Marek Urban, now chair of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Clemson University in South Carolina, who “agreed that the images were fraudulent” and requested the paper be retracted. Lodge added that the journal was unable to reach the other author, Anuradha Misra, a former member of Urban’s lab when both were at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg. (Urban also supervised Misra’s dissertation).

Here’s the retraction notice for Environmentally Compliant Fluoro-Containing MMA/ nBA Colloidal Dispersions; Synthesis, Molecular Modeling, and Coalescence,” published in October 2009 and retracted in December 2017:

Over the past decade or so, we published several papers which described an aqueous synthesis of F-containing colloidal dispersions. These studies have shown that using phospholipids as well as other dispersing agents it is possible to copolymerize highly hydrophobic F-monomers with acrylic monomers (MMA/nBA) in water. Several studies, including the most recent study published in ACS Macro Letters, 2014, 346, we have shown that using appropriate conditions it is possible to overcome high surface tension of water and copolymerize low surface tension hydrophobic monomers. However, it was found that in the publication in Macromolecules in 2009 (DOI: 10.1021/ma9012303) Figure 1 had been inappropriately edited. While the main findings of the publication, that is the synthesis of F-containing MMA/nBA copolymers, do not change, the inappropriate editing of Figure 1 calls into question other data in the publication. For that reason, the corresponding author of this publication requests retraction of this article.

The paper has been cited 11 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, including once by the retraction notice.

Urban did not respond to our request for comment. According to LinkedIn, Misra now works at Aditya Birla Group, a company based in Mumbai.

We asked Lodge whether Urban had provided an explanation for the doctored images in Figure 1. Lodge told us that Urban had not been aware that the images were problematic:

He was taken by complete surprise.

The journal’s new editor-in-chief, Marc Hillmyer, told us he is currently looking at Misra’s two other papers in Macromolecules but that “nothing has jumped off the page:”

My investigation is incomplete, but so far this looks to be an isolated incident.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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