Duke misconduct case prompts another expression of concern — but not a retraction

The Duke Chapel

Here’s an expression of concern that raised some eyebrows around the Retraction Watch HQ.

The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine has issued an EoC about a 2007 paper by a group of researchers at Duke University (well, at the time, at least) while acknowledging “irregularities in the procedures of a lab that generated those data.”

One of the authors of the paper, William Foster, was a pulmonology researcher at the Durham, N.C., university before retiring in the wake of a scandal involving one of his lab workers, Erin Potts-Kant. He has now had four papers in the AJRCCM subjected to expressions of concern, and one retracted.

Duke earlier this year settled a whistleblower lawsuit that stemmed from the misconduct for a record $112.5 million. Foster and another colleague, Monica Kraft, who left Duke for the University of Arizona in 2014, were accused of negligence in their handling of the Potts-Kant affair. (Kraft served as president of the American Thoracic Society, which publishes the AJRCCM, in 2012-2013.) 

Last month, the U.S. Office of Research Integrity issued its findings in the case and permanently banned Potts-Kant from Federal funding, saying that she

engaged in research misconduct by knowingly and intentionally falsifying and fabricating research data included in one hundred and seventeen (117) figures and two (2) tables in thirty-nine (39) published papers, three (3) manuscripts, and two (2) research records.

The now-flagged AJRCCM article was not among the 39 on the ORI’s naughty list. According to the EoC

The Journal is publishing this expression of concern about an article in the August 1, 2007, issue (1) because of potential problems with the reliability of its data. The authors have informed us that, although the data appear to be accurate, they have uncertainty about the validity of the data described in Figure 7 because of irregularities in the procedures of a lab that generated those data.

The EoC does not refer to the ORI findings. Given the history of the case, we asked the editor of the journal, Jadwiga Wedzicha, why the AJRCCM opted for an EoC in this case rather than a retraction. Her response: 

We have already retracted a number of other articles.

However this case had some different issues and we will be shortly posting a follow up. 

We’ll keep an eye out for that update.

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