Caught Our Notice: Former rising star loses fourth paper

Title: Haemophilus influenzae responds to glucocorticoids used in asthma therapy by modulation of biofilm formation and antibiotic resistance

What Caught Our Attention: This is the fourth retraction for Robert Ryan, formerly a high-profile researcher studying infections that can be deadly in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In 2016, the University of Dundee in Scotland determined that Ryan had committed research misconduct, including misrepresenting clinical data and duplicating images in a dozen different publications. (Ryan tried to appeal the decision, then resigned.) The latest retraction cites a few problems with the paper, including uncertainty about the provenance of some data.

According to the notice, the second-to-last author, George A. O’Toole at Dartmouth, disagrees with the text of the notice, not the decision to retract. We contacted O’Toole, who declined to comment.

We received a statement from Ryan about the retraction:

I did write to the journal to highlight the issues once they were realized.  All the original data was supplied to the committees and journal to show it was a labeling issue with the samples. I was not involved in sample collection, labeling or data generation associated with these clinical samples that were misrepresented. However, as the corresponding author, I must take responsibility for missing these issues in the generation of the manuscript. I am terribly sorry about this. Nevertheless, I was very disappointed that other authors did not take responsibility for the errors directly.

It should be stressed that independent labs to date have repeated a lot of this work and shown similar outcomes from this article. At this point other articles that I have been involved with that had errors have been corrected. For the retracted articles, I have provided the strains and information to independent scientists to republish. I will provide links to the preprints and articles once they are accepted.

Journal: EMBO Molecular Medicine

Authors: Chris S Earl, Teh Wooi Keong, Shi‐qi An, Sarah Murdoch, Yvonne McCarthy, Junkal Garmendia, Joseph Ward, J Maxwell Dow, Liang Yang, George A O’Toole, Robert P Ryan

Affiliations: University of Dundee, UK; Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; University College Cork, Ireland; CSIC‐Universidad Pública Navarra‐Gobierno Navarra, Spain; Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES), Spain; Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, USA

The Notice:

The above article, published May 20 2015 in EMBO Molecular Medicine, has been retracted by agreement between the authors of the study, CSE, TWK, SQA, SM, YMcC, JG, JW, JMD, LY, RPR, the journal Chief Editor and the EMBO Head of Scientific Publications in accordance with the outcomes of independent investigations conducted by the University of Dundee and University College Cork.

GAO’T disagrees with the text of this retraction notice, albeit not with the retraction.

The following issues are noted:

-Table 1 contains clinical data described in the paper as being derived from a cohort of asthma patients. However, the provenance of this data is unclear. Based on the evidence available, the University of Dundee investigation concluded that the majority of the patient cohort is likely to be a subset of a cohort of cystic fibrosis patients reported in PLoS One 8(12): e82432 (, although in a number of cases the patient’s gender is at odds between the two reports.

-The RNAseq data are unavailable on the European Nucleotide Archive under the reported accession number ERG003569. RNAseq data were uploaded with accession number ERS654066 before publication.

-The paper describes use of both prednisolone and prednisone, yet only the latter was used in the study.

Date of Article: May 2015

Times Cited, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science:  8

Date of Notice: March 12, 2018

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2 thoughts on “Caught Our Notice: Former rising star loses fourth paper”

  1. “It should be stressed that independent labs to date have repeated a lot of this work and shown similar outcomes from this article.”

    How sure can one be that they are correct and didn’t manipulate data as well?

  2. “How sure can one be that they are correct and didn’t manipulate data as well?”
    Well there is that – but it also appears (to me) that a lot of scientific misconduct comes from researchers who believe something and falsify data to get the desired results. Sometimes the actual hypothesis may be correct and when others repeat it the data emerges. This does not mean (just because the idea was correct) that the perpetrators of the fraud should be let off (because others did the hard graft).
    To my mind though (whoever may be responsible) falsification or misrepresentation of data that can directly affect clinical treatment is probably one of the worst forms of scientific abuse. Yes academic “fraud” can lead to a waste of money and time (I think a lot of people have spent time trying to repeat results of other workers to no avail) but at the end of the day people tend not to die due to this (I am excluding career death from this).

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