Authors retract heart disease paper for “nonscientific reason”

Researchers have retracted a 2018 paper about the genetic underpinnings of heart disease from the FASEB Journal — and it’s not entirely clear why.

The paywalled retraction notice simply cites a “nonscientific reason.” Cody Mooneyhan, the director of publications at the journal, declined to provide further details, and the authors have provided different accounts of what happened: The paper’s corresponding author, John Yu, told Retraction Watch that he requested the retraction because the first author, Chia‐Ti Tsai, refused to sign the journal’s copyright agreement. Tsai, a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at National Taiwan University in Taipei, told us he was “not notified before the paper was submitted.”

Yu, a research fellow at the Institute of Cellular and Organism Biology at National Yang-Ming University in Taipei City, explained that after the manuscript, “Deficiency of a novel gene, Yulink, predisposes to heart failure and ventricular arrhythmia,” was accepted last December, the authors had to sign the journal’s copyright agreement:

[Tsai] did not sign this copyright transfer form, even after repeated requests from me and the Journal. I, as the corresponding author felt that since our manuscript could then not comply with Journal’s request from all authors, we should retract the paper.  

The journal’s policy states that each author must sign the copyright agreement prior to publication. Yu said that, in late January, he asked the journal to withdraw the manuscript. But, by that time, the paper was already online. (If Tsai didn’t sign the form, it’s unclear how the paper ended up published online.) According to Yu, Mooneyhan asked if he wanted to retract the online version:

I concurred immediately.

The retraction notice was published last month.

We asked Tsai whether or not he had signed the copyright form; he told us:

I, as the first author of this paper, was not notified before the paper was submitted to FASEB Journal.  

Yu, however, said that the authors have kept Tsai informed throughout the submission process, and he was informed in writing that they had decided to submit the manuscript to FASEB after a string of rejections from clinically-oriented journals. Yu said:

[Tsai] totally ignored our numerous attempts to communicate with him – he did not respond to phone calls, e-mails, or personal messages via his colleagues, mutual friends or other coauthors, nor did he respond to repeated urges from FASEB to complete the copyright transfer form and to close our account of submission.

Yu added that:

…when I initiated the manuscript withdrawal, we did not realize that the manuscript was soon to be published on the web, because copyright transfer form had not yet been sent to journal/publisher. In other word, we thought we were withdrawing the manuscript from the submission process prior to publication. Therefore, I should apologize for the complications thus incurred.

Yu told us that all authors approved the retraction, but noted:

We stand by our findings and believe that it is an interesting and good work. Thus, we are continuing to pursue these studies.

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