A study on fruit flies is retracted “owing to legal issues of confidentiality”

Ceratitis capitata, via Wikimedia

A preliminary study which found that using cold treatment worked to combat a Mediterranean species of fruit flies in blueberries has been retracted.

The study, “Cold Responses of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly Ceratitis capitata Wiedemann (Diptera: Tephritidae) in Blueberry” was published in Insects, an MDPI journal on May 1, 2020.

The retraction appears to be due to some kind of ethics breach, not the findings of the paper itself. It is unclear, however, what kind of ethics breach took place, and none of the authors has responded to requests for comment. The article’s URL in the journal doesn’t even show the abstract but at the time of this writing the full text is available (labeled as retracted) on PubMed. 

The retraction notice, dated June 9, 2020 reads:

The published article [1] has been retracted and removed at the request of Murdoch University owing to legal issues of confidentiality. The University was not aware that the article had been submitted for publication and did not agree to the publication of the paper in its current form. Thus, out of respect for the institution’s wishes, in agreement with the Insects Editorial Office and in agreement with the authors, the paper will be removed from the public record and marked as retracted. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the removal of this article.

Insects is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and strives to uphold the highest ethical standards. The article [1] is retracted and shall be marked accordingly.

The editor of Insects, Brian Forschler, of the University of Georgia, wrote Retraction Watch saying:

That manuscript was retracted upon request of Professor Lucy Johnston, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research & Innovation at Murdoch University.

He also wrote:

I assume, because the submission went through the peer review process, that the science was sound and that this work was removed due to an ethical oversight by the authors.

Forschler said he believed the retraction had to do with failure to communicate about the manuscript with research collaborators.

Retraction Watch reached out to Johnston, who declined to comment on the retraction but contacted Forschler to ask him to correct what she said was baseless claim about a failure to communicate with collaborators. Forschler then rescinded this statement.

None of the co-authors responded to multiple email requests for comment.

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2 thoughts on “A study on fruit flies is retracted “owing to legal issues of confidentiality””

  1. My guess is that the message from the research wasn’t as supportive of fruit export goals as expected by the industry and government funders.

    While the authors declare “This research received no external funding,” the MedFly unit at Murdock was established just to sell fruit: “It will help open up access to trade partner countries that have stringent Medfly requirements.”

    From: https://www.murdoch.edu.au/news/articles/national-research-centre-at-murdoch

    More:
    “Before accepting imports, countries such as Japan and China require evidence that postharvest treatments such as Cold Treatment – where flies expire after extended exposure to low temperatures – effectively control Medfly risk.”

    and

    “He said: ‘The grant is an example of industry, government and academia working collaboratively, with federal funding matched by an industry contribution of more than $3.4 million.

    ‘The project will benefit producers and exporters of blueberries, apples, pears, avocados, strawberries, cherries, lychees, table grapes, citrus, capsicums and summer fruit.’ “

    Could the funding grants be conditioned on pre-approval of research publications? Maybe a public records request would answer that question.

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