Georgia State researcher up to nine retractions disagrees with the journal

Ming-Hui Zou

A prominent researcher at Georgia State University who had two papers retracted and eight subjected to expressions of concern for problematic images last year is now up to nine retractions.

Ming-Hui Zou is the common author on all nine retracted papers, which were published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 2003 and 2010. Of the eight papers originally subjected to expressions of concern, seven have been retracted, and one has been updated to a correction.

Here is a typical retraction notice, for “Nicotine-induced activation of AMP-activated protein kinase inhibits fatty acid synthase in 3T3L1 adipocytes: A role for oxidant stress,” referring to image duplication, and an offer by the authors to “publish an amended figure or to repeat the experiments,” which the journal declined:

This article has been withdrawn by Ming-Hui Zou, Hong Wang, Ping Song, and Miao Zhang. Zhibo An and Xuemei Geng could not be reached. The Journal raised questions regarding the following. Lanes 1 and 2 of the FAS immunoblot in Fig. 6B were reused in lanes 4 and 5. Lanes 2 and 3 of the actin immunoblot in Fig. 6B were reused in lanes 4 and 5. Lanes 1–3 of the FAS immunoblot in Fig. 6B were reused as AMPK-α in Fig. 6C. The withdrawing authors were able to locate data for a repeated experiment conducted at the time of the original work for the FAS immunoblot in Fig. 6B. In addition, the authors also found the original Fig. 6C, although the original immunoblots were not available for evaluation, 12 years after its publication. The withdrawing authors offered to publish an amended figure or to repeat the experiments. The Journal declined both offers, a decision with which the authors respectfully disagree. Furthermore, the withdrawing authors state that the results of this paper have been confirmed by the results of complementary experiments presented in the article and that the principal observations of this article were further confirmed in publications (Cheng, P. Y., et al. (2007) Biochem. Pharmacol. 74, 1758–1765; Tang, G. J., et al. (2011) Free Radic. Biol. Med. 50, 1492–1502; Alnakshbandi, A. A., et al. (2012) Saudi J. Health Sci. 1, 139–142; Perng, D. W., et al. (2013) Crit. Care Med. 41, 120–132; Ko, H. K., et al. (2015) J. Cell Physiol. 230, 1781–1793; Huang, M., et al. (2016) Oncogenesis 5, e195; Brynildsen, J. K., et al. (2018) Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 115, 4282–4287; Yuk, T., et al. (2018) 2018, 10.1155/2018/7420265; Hasan, M. K., et al. (2018) Endocrinology 159, 931–944). The withdrawing authors stand by the experimental data and the conclusions of the paper. The article, with confirmatory data supporting the results, can be obtained by contacting the withdrawing authors.

The nine retracted papers have been cited just shy of 1,100 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Zou is, according to Georgia State

an internationally recognized researcher in molecular and translational medicine and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Molecular Medicine and associate vice president for research at Georgia State University …

He told Retraction Watch that his team disagreed with the journal’s decision to retract the papers, and referred us to the retraction notices:

All these published notes are reviewed by the journal and mutually agreed by us and the editors of JBC. Clearly, errors were made within these papers and the main conclusions are valid. Therefore, these papers should not be retracted. The journals should have granted us the opportunities to correct.

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9 thoughts on “Georgia State researcher up to nine retractions disagrees with the journal”

  1. It would interesting to hear what Georgia State has to say after the 9 retractions. Does Georgia State also disagree with the journal?

  2. I am always puzzled by the defense “Besides, all the results have been reproduced by other groups.”

    Researcher, you falsified your figures. We can’t really treat this paper as evidence of anything (especially when you’ve apparently falsified figures in NINE papers). If other people have reproduced your findings, *their* papers stand as evidence. Nothing is therefore lost by eliminating yours. (And for fields which do meta-studies, it’s important to remove papers that are not valid; they inflate or distort the meta-studies.)

    1. I couldn’t agree more!
      It is a disgrace to our “profession” that such self-evident facts need to spelled out these days.

  3. This guy needs to be fired, and his empire dissolved. What a damn waste of money. GA state will probably do nothing as long as the grant money comes in.

  4. NIH. Please investigate!. You are shouting at the top of your lungs “INTEGRITY MATTERS”. WELL, DOES IT OR NOT?

      1. Good Question. The answer is “it depends”. The statute of limitations is nominally 6 years, but ORI can assert its authority if a questioned old (PHS supported?) paper is used more recently, such as for scientific justification in a later PHS grant application. But interpreting what re(‘use’) physically means is another matter. (I have forgotten whether re-use is/was met by simply including the questioned paper in a CV submitted in the application, or citing it in a more recent publication citing PHS support, something like that.) This is the sort of messy bread and butter issue that used to be discussed in the old ORI newsletters.

  5. A search of PubMed for retractions and corrections from this author’s lab shows: three 2020 retractions in JBiolChem of 2007, 2008, & 2010 papers; six 2019 retractions in JBiolChem of 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008 (two), & 2009 papers; and four 2019 corrections in JBiolChem of 2010, 2013, 2014, & 2015 papers. The NIH support cited on each paper included three to seven NHBLI grants.

    Whether the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has jurisdiction to review the questioned papers — for falsification as possible research misconduct under its Regulations — depends on whether such concerns were brought up within six years of the publication (which could include the 2013-2015 publications), OR [under the Regulations’ Subsequent Use exemption] any of these publications were cited or the questioned data were reused by the authors in their subsequent papers, NIH grant applications, etc. in the last six years.

    1. Someone (especially one with so much hubris) is going to cite these papers in his/her NIH grant applications in order to show “productivity”. It is almost guaranteed that the Eminent Scholar’s federal applications have these papers cited in them, or their data used. The NIH needs to take a deep dive into this. If they let this go they will lose the little credibility they have remaining as guardians of public funds.

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