When a journal discovers elementary design flaws in a paper, what should it do? Should it retract immediately, or are there times when it makes sense to give the researchers time to perform a “do-over?”
These are questions the editors at Scientific Reports recently faced with a somewhat controversial 2016 paper, which reported that microRNAs from broccoli could make their way into the nuclei of human cells — suggesting that the food we eat could affect our gene expression.
After the paper appeared, researcher Kenneth Witwer at Johns Hopkins — who was not a co-author — posted comments on PubMed Commons and the paper itself, noting that the authors hadn’t properly designed the experiment, making it impossible for them to detect broccoli microRNAs.
But instead of retracting the paper, the journal decided to give the authors time to do the experiments again, this time with correctly designed molecular biology tools. When that failed, they retracted it — and as part of the notice, reported the exact opposite conclusion of the original.
Witwer said the authors did a “tremendous job” with the follow-up study, but he still thinks the journal should have retracted the paper immediately. Letting the authors redo it is “a dangerous precedent to set,” he told us:
This week, the New England Journal of Medicine issued a type of editor’s note we’ve never seen before, on a highly influential letter published nearly 40 years ago.
Above the one-paragraph letter, which reports data suggesting pain medications are not likely to cause addiction, the journal has added a note warning readers that the letter has been “heavily and uncritically cited” by sources using it to suggest opioids are not addictive.
In essence, the journal isn’t commenting on the merits of the letter — the problem is how it’s been used by others.
Here’s something we don’t see every day: A journal explains in an erratum notice why it chose not to retract a paper that contains data published elsewhere.
According to the Journal of Business and Psychology, the authors violated the journal’s transparency policy by failing to disclose that they’d used the same data in their 2014 in three others. However, the editors ultimately concluded the current paper was different enough from the other three to save it from being retracted.
In February, Lusine Abrahamyan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, was contacted by ResearchGate. Her name was listed on a 2016 paper in a heart journal, the site told her — was Abrahamyan indeed a co-author?
Um, no, she was not. In fact, before that moment, she didn’t know such a paper existed.
It turns out, Abrahamyan had supervised the thesis of the first author — who, she soon learned, had also published an identical paper in another heart journal. Both have since been retracted.
Jana Rieger is a researcher in Edmonton, Alberta. And now, she’s also a novelist. Her new book, “A Course in Deception,” draws on her experiences in science, and weaves a tale of how greed and pressures to publish can lead to even worse outcomes than the sort we write about at Retraction Watch. We interviewed Rieger about the novel.
Despite taking some serious hits, a 2006 letter in Nature isn’t going anywhere.
Years ago, a university committee determined that two figures in the letter had been falsified. The journal chose to correct the paper, rather than retract it — and then, the next year, published a correction of that correction due to “an error in the production process.” To round it out, in June of last year, Naturepublished a rebuttal from a separate research group, who had failed to replicate the letter’s results.
Still, the first author told us there are no plans to retract the paper, since the follow up experiments published in the corrections confirmed the paper’s conclusions.
Most researchers by now recognize there’s a reproducibility crisis facing science. But what to do about it? Today in Nature,Jeffrey S. Mogil at McGill University and Malcolm R. Macleod at the University of Edinburgh propose a new approach: Restructure the reporting of preclinical research to include an extra “confirmatory study” performed by an independent lab, which verifies the findings before they are published. We spoke with them about how this could work.
Retraction Watch: You’re proposing to restructure animal studies of new therapies or ways to prevent disease. Can you explain what this new type of study should look like, and how researchers will execute it?
An erratum for a book chapter about water pollution has removed two out of the three original authors.
What’s more, the notice specifies that “any mistakes or omissions are the sole responsibility” of the remaining author, Michael Yodzis of the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
This isn’t something we see every day, but one of the removed authors told us he believes the paper is scientifically valid — he just didn’t have anything to do with it. Yodzis told us he included the two authors by mistake, after believing he had corresponded with them about the paper, which was an extension of their previous work together.