For the second time, researchers retract — then republish — a vaccine paper

Photo credit: Blake Patterson

Two researchers with a troubled publication history about vaccine safety have withdrawn their third paper.

Along with several other co-authors, Christopher Shaw, of the University of British Columbia, and Lucija Tomljenovic, of the Neural Dynamics Research Group, recently withdrew a 2017 paper about a controversy over a tetanus vaccination program in Kenya.  

The paper has been republished in the same journal, adding another chapter to Shaw and Tomljenovic’s confusing record of publishing and withdrawing papers. The journal did not respond to our request for comment, but Shaw told Retraction Watch:

We did withdraw it due to some editorial issues with the journal, but these now seem to be resolved and the article is back.

To add to the confusion, the authors posted an addendum to the paper that explains why they withdrew it, but that has also been withdrawn from ResearchGate. According to the addendum (available through Google’s cache), the authors withdrew the paper Jan. 5, a day after being told by the journal that their paper:

though already published, had been “sent… for another round of peer-review.”

HCG Found in WHO Tetanus Vaccine in Kenya Raises Concern in the Developing World,” published Oct. 27, 2017 in Open Access Library Journal, concerns reports of a human hormone found in tetanus vaccinations given as part of a campaign run by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops has contended that the hormone’s presence means the tetanus vaccine is actually an anti-fertility vaccine developed by the WHO in the 1970s. As reported by the Washington Post in 2014:

Although the [Kenyan] government, UNICEF and the World Health Organization have all said that the vaccine is safe, the country’s Catholic leaders say they have proof that the doses given to Kenyan women since March are “laced” with a fertility-inhibiting hormone.

In an undated “short retraction notice,” the journal wrote:

This paper is withdrawn from Open Access Library Journal (OALibJ) according to authors’ withdrawal request.

The Editorial Board would like to extend its sincere apology for any inconvenience this withdrawal may have caused.

Editor guiding this withdrawal: Jane Wang (Editorial Assistant of OALibJ)

The notice includes a non-functional link to a so-called “full withdrawal notice.”

The journal has not been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Not the first time

A previous paper from Shaw and Tomljenovic had a similarly confusing publication history: In 2016, a paper originally published in Vaccine disappeared before being retracted, only to be re-published by another journal.

And last year, the duo were part of a group of authors who retracted a paper that had been called out on PubPeer for image issues; one critic dubbed it “anti-vaccine pseudoscience.”

We asked Shaw what the editorial issues were; he referred us to the paper’s first author John Oller, of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Oller did not elaborate. He told us:

They say all is well that ends well… The article after some discussion is still up…
Looks like the same identifier number to me and all the same dates…

According to a 2011 story from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana Advocate, Oller sued his university for discrimination over:

his beliefs in creationism and intelligent design, semiotic theory and on the association of toxins and disease agents with autism spectrum disorders, which involves the belief that autism is caused mainly by toxins and disease agents, such as mercury.

In the withdrawn addendum, the authors said that the journal wanted to re-review the paper after receiving a critical email from a scientist named John Broughall. The authors said on Dec. 8, 2017, Broughall wrote the journal:

I would strongly suggest that this article is retracted…you would not want your publication associated with what could best be described as a disproven conspiracy theory.

As the addendum notes, Broughall alleged that Shaw and Tomljenovic had a conflict of interest and that the paper had not been competently reviewed. Broughall also said he believed the tests for the human hormone were unreliable.

The authors said in the addendum that the journal claimed its decision to re-review was not due to Broughall; however, the journal insisted Oller respond to Broughall, they said, and the two exchanged several emails.

The authors wrote that the paper had been reviewed by “no fewer than 9 anonymous peer-reviewers of a prestigious hard-copy journal” as part of a prior submission. However, the authors said in the addendum that that journal’s publishing schedule was too slow, so they chose OALibJ instead.

Questions about the tests

In the original paper, Oller and his co-authors did not appear to do any further testing of the vaccine samples from Kenya, however, they wrote:

we analyzed the actual reports of laboratory tests of vials of the Kenya vaccine obtained by the [Kenya Catholic Doctors Association] during the actual vaccination campaign. Those laboratory results were systematically compared with analyses of samples provided later by WHO officials allegedly from supplies maintained in Nairobi.

In January 2017, Business Daily Africa reported that the lab that produced the test results analyzed in the study, Agriq-Quest of Nairobi, Kenya, lost its testing license. According to a former employee:

the lab lacked capacity to carry out the tests it was handling for its clients, including the Ministry of Health…

Hat tip: David Bimler

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3 thoughts on “For the second time, researchers retract — then republish — a vaccine paper”

  1. I particularly like the the argument that the paper did not require editorial peer-review because the authors had already read it:

    “However, the hCG-paper was competently peer-reviewed by all the members of the team of authors (including two MDs, a PhD in biochemistry, a PhD with specialization in neurology, a PhD in linguistics specializing in biosignaling systems, and two McNair Research Scholars)”

  2. We did withdraw it due to some editorial issues with the journal, but these now seem to be resolved and the article is back.

    “Seem”? Prof. Shaw does not sound entirely confident. Of course he is not the leading / corresponding author so it may be that he is not privy to all the discussions.

    The paper was retracted, and taken back by Oller due to editorial incompetence, to be rehoused in some journal more worthy of it:

    The upshot was that the editors at OALib either lacked the competence or the fortitude to handle ordinary routine aspects of academic research and publishing. Hence, our withdrawal of the paper from that journal on January 5, 2018.

    Have the editors suddenly become sufficiently competent?

  3. Perhaps worth noting that the publisher of this wonderful journal, SCIRP, was included on Beall’s list. And the authors claim they had submitted their manuscript to a “prestigious hard-copy journal” but withdrew because it was too slow and instead submitted it to this absolutely insignificant journal? yeah, right, that’s really believable. Reminds me of a colleague who had an article rejected by one of the Nature journals, telling everybody that the article actually had been accepted and that Nature would apply a special fast-publication procedure, but then claimed to have withdrawn the paper to send it to a run-of-the-mill journal because Nature was just too slow…

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