A lab at the University of Malaya has lost two papers and will have to correct five more — just from one publisher — over poor lab practices.
One of the retracted papers paper tested the effects of a plant on liver damage; its notice says the paper contains overlap with another paper from the same lab that tested a different plant for the same effect — but to save time and cut costs, the authors tested both plants in animals at the same time, and collected their tissues using one kit and protocol.
The publisher (Hindawi) decided to take a second look at the work coming out of the lab of Mahmood Ameen Abdulla after people raised questions about some of his previous work, including a Scientific Reports paper that was corrected for mistaken duplications, according to Matt Hodgkinson, the head of research integrity at Hindawi. After Hindawi spotted problems, it contacted the institution, which investigated.
According to Hodgkinson, the UM investigation concluded the problems were due to errors, not deliberate misconduct. Hindawi plans to correct five more papers from Abdulla’s lab, after consulting with Hindawi’s board members following UM’s investigation:
This level of disorganization is not typical and the institution told us they have since advised these researchers about record keeping and data/image management.
The errors in the papers are described in some detail in the retraction notices. Here is part of the notice for “Mechanism of Hepatoprotective Effect of Boesenbergia rotunda in Thioacetamide-Induced Liver Damage in Rats,” published by Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine:
An institutional investigation by the University of Malaya found there was no system to index and file data and images to avoid mislabeling and mishandling, which led to errors and duplication of research data. The authors did not thoroughly check the manuscript before submission.
The authors said that to save time, animal experiments were conducted on both plants at the same time and to cut costs, immunohistochemistry staining was performed at the same time on the liver tissues collected from all animals of both experiments using one kit and one protocol. In addition, the results of both experiments were very close and so they mixed up images between the two experiments.
The 2013 paper has been cited nine times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
The second retraction notice, for a 2014 paper published in The Scientific World Journal, includes similar language about the nature of the problems in the lab, which led to problems with some of the figures. It notes:
The authors offered to provide replacement figures, but the Editorial Board recommended retraction.
“PASS-Predicted Hepatoprotective Activity of Caesalpinia sappan in Thioacetamide-Induced Liver Fibrosis in Rats” has been cited seven times.
Hodgkinson added that labs can avoid these issues by using tools that avert these problems, such as electronic timestamps, backing up data, and properly storing samples.
This isn’t the first time UM has had to deal with image problems from one of its labs; in 2016, the institution acted quickly after Twitter users posted concerns about some figures that appeared to be obviously duplicated. Within a week, UM posted a statement that reported four papers from the lab contained duplication and/or manipulation.
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