Institutions in France and Switzerland are investigating figures in several molecular biology papers, according to a joint press release published today.
Unfortunately, there’s not much more we can tell you about the investigation — the press release doesn’t specify the names of researchers, journals, or even the area within molecular biology that’s under scrutiny.
The National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France will lead the inquiry, with contribution from ETH Zürich in Switzerland. Molecular biology researchers from both institutions were involved in the flagged publications, an ETH Zürich spokesperson told us.
Authors of systematic review articles sometimes overlook misconduct and conflicts of interest present in the research they are analyzing, according to a recent study published in BMJ Open.
During the study, researchers reviewed 118 systematic reviews published in 2013 in four high-profile medical journals — Annals of Internal Medicine, the British Medical Journal, The Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet. In addition, the authors contacted review authors to ask additional questions; 80 (69%) responded. The review included whether the authors had followed certain procedures to ensure the integrity of the data they were compiling, such as checking for duplicate publications, and analyzing if the authors’ conflicts of interest may have impacted the findings.
On July 28, Cell published editorial notes for all three papers, which have been collectively cited more than 1000 times (also reported by Leonid Schneider). The notes say that the journal will take “no further action,” noting that the authors of the papers informed Cell of the problems with figures, which do not appear to compromise the papers’ overall validity.
The journal Evolution has retracted a 2007 paper about the roles of the different sexes in searching for mates, after the same author critiqued the work in a later paper.
The case raises important questions about when retractions are appropriate, and whether they can have a chilling effect on scientific discourse. Although Hanna Kokko of the University of Zurich, Switzerland — who co-authored both papers — agreed that the academic literature needed to be corrected, she didn’t want to retract the earlier paper; the journal imposed that course of action, said Kokko.
A researcher who studies how others communicate is struggling with his own communications: Peter J. Schulz has lost two book chapters for misappropriating the work of others, and is under investigation by his university.
Although the publisher believes the errors were unintentional, the retractions have prompted it to stop selling the books altogether.
EMBO has taken back an award given to beleaguered plant biologist Olivier Voinnet in 2009, and is investigating a recent grantee who had a paper retracted from Nature Genetics yesterday.
The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) “promotes excellence in the life sciences” in Europe, in part by awarding prizes to promising young scientists. Voinnet and Sonia Melo earned their awards by exhibiting potential as young scientists studying genetics — of plants and cancer, respectively — but now EMBO is skeptical of the papers that formed the basis of their applications.
Melo’s Installation Grant from EMBO was announced just last month, and consists of 50,000 Euros annually for three to five years. She is currently based at the University of Porto, in Portugal.