Glasgow professor leaves post amidst multiple retractions

A professor specializing in the health of children and pregnant women has left her post at the University of Glasgow, and issued three retractions in recent months.

All three notices — issued by PLOS ONE — mention an investigation at the university, which found signs of data manipulation and falsification. Fiona Lyall, the last author on all three papers, is also the only author in common to all three papers; she did not respond to the journal’s inquiries.

According to the University of Glasgow, the affiliation listed for Lyall, she is no longer based at the university. When we asked about the circumstances of her departure, the spokesperson told us the university has a “commitment to confidentiality,” but noted:

We take all allegations of research misconduct extremely seriously and investigate appropriately.

After the first two retractions were issued in June, the pseudonymous whistleblower Clare Francis took a closer look at Lyall’s work, and alerted the university to potential issues in two other papers; one of those two other papers was retracted this week.

Here’s the retraction notice for one of the papers retracted in June, which shares similar language with the others:

The PLOS ONE Editors retract this article in light of concerns raised about Figure 2.

Similarities were noted between bands within the β-actin panel, which also appears to duplicate the β-actin panel in Figure 2 of [Heat Shock Protein 27 Is Spatially Distributed in the Human Placenta and Decreased during Labor].

In addition, lanes 1, 2 of the HSP 70 blot for labor samples (middle panel) appear similar to the bands shown in the β-actin blot (e.g. in lanes 2, 3).

The University of Glasgow investigated these concerns and recommended retraction owing to signs of data manipulation and falsification. In the course of the investigation, it was established that the original data underlying the figure panels in question are no longer available.

In light of these concerns, and in line with the institution’s communication, the PLOS ONE Editors retract this article, as the concerns raised call into question the integrity of the data and validity of the article’s results and conclusions.

The retracted article, “Heat Shock Protein 70 Expression Is Spatially Distributed in Human Placenta and Selectively Upregulated during Labor and Preeclampsia,” has been cited 19 times since it was published in 2013. The notice cites another paper, also co-authored by Lyall, which has also been retracted, with a similar notice. “Heat Shock Protein 27 Is Spatially Distributed in the Human Placenta and Decreased during Labor” has been cited six times since it appeared in 2013.

The article that was retracted this week, “Apelin Receptor (APJ) Expression during Cardiopulmonary Bypass in Children Undergoing Surgical Repair,” has only been cited twice since it was published in 2014. According to the retraction notice, the first two authors disagreed with the retraction; the other two (including Lyall) did not respond.

We emailed Lyall at her institutional address (the only one we could find), but haven’t heard back.

A secret sleuth

After noticing the first two retractions, issued June 21 and 22, Clare Francis contacted the university on June 22 about concerns regarding two other papers by Lyall; one of those is the third retraction, issued August 6. Francis tells us:

I am pleased with Glasgow University’s response. They did not seem offended, like most universities, that problematic data had been pointed out.

Francis added:

Glasgow seems to take problematic data seriously.

Francis forwarded to us correspondence he received from the University of Glasgow on June 26 saying they had requested the retraction of another paper co-authored by Lyall, published in 2013 in Cell Stress and Chaperones. We’ve asked the publisher (Springer Nature) to confirm. 

Update, 9 August 2018, 14:42 UTC time: Springer Nature confirms the Cell Stress and Chaperones paper is under investigation:

Until our investigations are concluded, we unfortunately cannot disclose any details.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen (for one retraction)

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3 thoughts on “Glasgow professor leaves post amidst multiple retractions”

  1. Hmmm…almost wonder whether there should be a new category. A “doing the right thing”, but then for Universities/Institutes that rapidly and comprehensively investigate.

    Anyways, well done “Clare Francis”, whoever you are, and well done Glasgow University for swiftly and promptly doing what was needed.

    It would be interesting to know why the first two authors did not agree to the retraction, though.

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