Science retracts coral reef recovery paper more than a year after a report on allegations in its own pages

Danielle Dixson

Fifteen months after its news division published an investigation into work on coral reef recovery, Science has retracted a 2014 paper on the subject.

The article, “Chemically mediated behavior of recruiting corals and fishes: A tipping point that may limit reef recovery,” was written by a group at Georgia Institute of Technology led by Danielle Dixson, then a postdoc at the university. Science issued an expression of concern in February of this year, as we reported then.

According to the retraction notice, signed by Science editor in chief Holden Thorp, the University of Delaware, Lewes, where Dixson has been running her own lab, “no longer [has] confidence in the validity of the data”:

On 22 August 2014, Science published the Research Article “Chemically mediated behavior of recruiting corals and fishes: A tipping point that may limit reef recovery” by D. L. Dixson et al. (1). On 17 February, we published an Editorial Expression of Concern (2) after being made aware of data manipulation accusations pertaining to this paper. In August, the University of Delaware informed us that the data in Figs. 1A, 2, 3, and 4 were questioned and that they no longer have confidence in the validity of the data. In agreement with the recommendation of the University of Delaware, Science is retracting the paper.

Science announced the retraction this morning, without a pre-publication embargo. Neither Dixson nor Mark Hay, the senior author of the paper and the Teasley and Regents’ Professor of Biological Sciences at Georgia Tech, immediately responded to a request for comment from Retraction Watch.

Dixson, whose personal lab site has gone dark since February, told us earlier this year that she “categorically” denies the allegations, and claimed that “one formal, impartial investigation into similar allegations concluded there were no issues of concern.” She said she could not share a report of that investigation because it was “kept confidential from everyone.”

Correction, 1430 UTC, 8/9/22: The headline and first sentence of this post have been edited to better reflect that the subject of the paper was the effect of coral reef recovery, not ocean acidification, which was the subject of other papers by this group.

Update, 1500 UTC, 8/9/22: Science has a lot more details on this story, including some from the University of Delaware investigation report.

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3 thoughts on “Science retracts coral reef recovery paper more than a year after a report on allegations in its own pages”

  1. “There exists a report which totally exonerates me but I can’t show it to you” seems to me to be the academic equivalent of “the lurkers support me in email.” It *could* be true but there’s no particular reason to believe it: it’s certainly not evidence.

    I can’t help feeling that a person who was thinking clearly would not even attempt this as a defense.

    1. From the coverage in Science:

      Her lawyer, Kristina Larsen, “describes Dixson as a brilliant, hardworking female scientist”

      Get it? Female. Identity politics is now the last refuge of scoundrels.

  2. A suspicious student started a record of his doubts while the work was going on, but it took from 2014 until now to get this done? If you follow the link in the update you’ll get the skeleton of this sordid story.

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