Journal takes 3 years to pull papers by researcher who committed misconduct

Samson Jacob

Nearly three years after a university investigation committee recommended retracting several papers by a cancer researcher found guilty of research misconduct, the journal Cancer Research has pulled three of the offending articles.

The journal also retracted a fourth paper by the researcher, Samson Jacob, a former emeritus professor at The Ohio State University, which had been flagged on PubPeer.

In 2021, the OSU committee reviewed dozens of allegations against Jacob’s work, and found 14 of them met at least one of two evidence standards for research misconduct, as we reported in 2022. The allegations mainly centered on figures that appeared to be spliced together from different experimental runs, which was not acknowledged in the studies – a concern the new retraction notices also mention. 

Prior to the OSU’s investigation report, which Retraction Watch obtained via a public-records request, Jacob had already racked up nine retractions from the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 

The committee concluded “that there was a permissive culture of data manipulation in [Jacob’s] lab, with emphasis on the control lanes to minimize detection, and that this was not due to inadvertent error,” according to the report. As a result, the school revoked Jacob’s emeritus status and OSU “contacted relevant journals in 2021” to request retractions, Benjamin Johnson, assistant vice president of media and public relations, told Retraction Watch in 2022. 

We emailed Christine A. Iacobuzio-Donahue, Cancer Research‘s editor-in-chief, to ask why the journal waited nearly three years to retract the papers mentioned in OSU’s investigation report, but she did not respond. 

Christine Battle, publisher and vice president of scientific publications at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which publishes the journal, told Retraction Watch:

The AACR works closely with authors and institutions regarding article corrections and retractions to ensure the integrity of the published record. This process is detailed and thorough, can take very different lengths of time depending on complexity or circumstances, and follows best practices among scientific, medical, and technical journals. As a matter of policy, we do not share details about cases but do include a detailed explanation in the correction/retraction notice.

The four papers, which were all retracted on December 15, were published between 2005 and 2010: 

The first three studies are among 10 papers the OSU committee advised retracting in its report. Each of the retraction notices for these papers cited the institutional review by OSU, and evidence of data manipulation. The papers have been cited a total of 661 times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science, including 47 times since OSU made its findings of misconduct.

The fourth retracted paper, Loss of Metallothionein Predisposes Mice to Diethylnitrosamine-Induced Hepatocarcinogenesis by Activating NF-κB Target Genes,” has comments on PubPeer that also expressed concerns about manipulation of the study’s Western blot analyses. That paper has been cited 44 times, including six times after 2021.

Jacob, who could not be reached for comment for this article, did not agree to any of the retractions. According to the retraction notices, he “stands by the reproducibility of the experimental data and the conclusions.”

Commenting on the retractions, an anonymous PubPeer user wrote:

With all due respect for Dr. Jacob, the concerns about the data presented in the paper are not about “reproducibility” or “conclusions.” The concerns are that the data presented shows signs of having been inappropriately manipulated – concerns which the editors apparently share (as do I).

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One thought on “Journal takes 3 years to pull papers by researcher who committed misconduct”

  1. Were there any expressions of concern for these articles? If not, why not?

    I can understand that journals do not slap an EoC on any and all article for which it has received comments, but if an author’s own institute recommends retraction, surely an EoC is the absolute minimum while the journal investigates further?

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