Neuroscience journal retracts eight articles for image distortion

Mu Yang

Elsevier’s Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy has retracted eight articles for image manipulation and overlap, with more on the way, according to the sleuth who notified the publication of the issues.

Each retraction notice credits an “anonymous reader” with having raised concerns about manipulated or duplicated images, with the journal’s editor in chief determining a retraction was warranted. 

That anonymous reader was Mu Yang, an assistant professor of neurobiology at Columbia University, in New York City, who started emailing the journal about problematic papers in January 2023. 

On May 16th, the journal notified Yang of the following retractions: 

We found another paper retracted the same day:

The retracted articles have been cited a total of six times, according to Clarivate’s Web of Science.

The retractions come after the journal’s founding editor and former editor in chief Sir Harry W.M. Steinbusch stepped down in January of this year. “I think that says a lot,” Yang told Retraction Watch. She felt the depth of his investigations were often lacking and “inappropriate.” After he stepped down and the new editor in chief took over, things didn’t seem to get much better, Yang said, but she acknowledged that the journal is trying to raise their standards.

Steinbusch initially agreed to an interview with Retraction Watch, but cancelled a short time later. We emailed the current editor in chief, Goran Šimić, and heard back from a spokesperson for Elsevier, who stated: 

We are currently investigating these papers and do not have any further information at this time.

Kingsley Afoke Iteire, a vice-dean and senior lecturer at the University of Medical Sciences in Ondo, Nigeria, and the corresponding author of one of the retracted papers, told us one of his co-authors used PowerPoint to resize the offending images, but this shouldn’t have distorted them.

Replacing the images instead of retracting the paper would have been a better decision, Iteire said, and he speculates the previous editor wouldn’t made as harsh a decision. “It’s likely to discourage mostly early career researchers like us, coming from this side of the world, where we cannot compete favorably with the global North for public grants. We are honest researchers, even though we are from Africa, with low income.” 

The corresponding author of another paper, Mohammad Ali Azarbayjani, a professor of exercise physiology at the Islamic Azad University in Tehran, Iran, said he had not made “any changes or manipulations” to the flagged images, which were obtained from methods carried out by the external lab Histogenotech. Azarbayjani said he “had no role in its implementation, and I took the results from the laboratory and adjusted the article based on the report of that laboratory.”

“Professor Goran Šimić told me because of my honesty in replying to the journal that if I could solve the problem with the images, they would give me the opportunity to resubmit the article,” Azarbayjani told Retraction Watch. With the new images added and based on his statistical analysis, “there has been no change in the quality and trend of the results (although the quantity of the data has changed slightly due to the change in the staining technique),” he said.

The corresponding authors of the other retracted papers did not respond to our requests for comment.

Yang is more concerned about a paper that hasn’t yet been retracted by the journal, which she says contains “heavy” image manipulation. In Steinbusch’s correspondence with the authors of this paper, he pointed out “irregularities” in Figure 8 and  asked them their “opinion” about the mistake and whether they preferred the figure to be removed or changed. The corresponding authors did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

In an email seen by Retraction Watch, Gail M. Rodney, a senior publisher at Elsevier, told Yang more retractions are “forthcoming.” Rodney told her the journal will now analyze every figure before a submission is sent out to review and apologized on behalf of the publisher for “failing the neuroscience community.”

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8 thoughts on “Neuroscience journal retracts eight articles for image distortion”

  1. Dr. Mu (Dysdera arabisenen) has an additional 49 papers flagged on PubPeer for the Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy as indexed on PSIref ( under the Retractions, EoC, CQC tab). Throw in a few more (4) from Hoya camphorifolia and there seems have been a problematic pattern revealing itself under the former management.
    My request to the new management, for these future notices, please see COPE Retraction Guidelines ( and issue separate notices from the original papers to prevent confusion/ false accusations of stealth retractions.
    Specifically, “Notices of retraction should: Be linked to the retracted article wherever possible (ie, in all online versions); Clearly identify the retracted article (eg, by including the title and authors in the retraction heading or citing the retracted article); Be clearly identified as a retraction (ie, distinct from other types of correction or comment); Be published promptly to minimise harmful effects; Be freely available to all readers (ie, not behind access barriers or available only to subscribers); State who is retracting the article; State the reason(s) for retraction; Be objective, factual and avoid inflammatory language.”
    as per Maarten van Kampen’s comment above, see Leonid Schneider’s recent articles on For Better Science, “Sir Harry’s Full Withdraw” @ re: the former editor, Sir Prof. dr. Harry W.M. Steinbusch.

  2. Sounds to me, like a bit of over zealous editing.
    Of course manipulation of any image would be intolerable,but to a point.
    I think however size and format by some editors would be obviously harmless manipulation.
    Would it not be the quality of the research conducted that should shine a spotlight on any deviations from protocols?
    I’m sure many are highly offended by the impersonal if not mechanical sounding system of identifiing such papers.

  3. the hyperlink in “That anonymous reader was Mu Yang, …”
    gives: ‘This site can’t be reached’
    please fix it.

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