“Uh, hypothetical situation: you see a paper published that is based on a premise which is clearly flawed, proven by existing literature.” So began an exasperated Twitter thread by Andrew Althouse, a statistician at University of Pittsburgh, in which he debated whether a study using what he calls a “nonsense statistic” should be addressed by letters to the editor or swiftly retracted.
The thread was the latest development in an ongoing disagreement over research in surgery. In one corner, a group of Harvard researchers claim they’re improving how surgeons interpret underpowered or negative studies. In the other corner, statisticians suggest the authors are making things worse by repeatedly misusing a statistical technique called post-hoc power. The authors are giving weak surgical studies an unwarranted pass, according to critics.
A researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital is retracting a paper due to “inappropriate manipulation and fabrication of data” by the first author.
According to the retraction notice, published Aug. 22, corresponding author Marian DiFiglia is retracting the paper because the alleged misconduct by the first author, Antonio Valencia:
led to an incorrect conclusion in the paper that NADPH activity is elevated in Huntington’s disease (HD). Some original data were missing and efforts to replicate findings using the reported method or an alternative approach were unsuccessful. An institutional faculty panel supports the decision and the reasons for the retraction.
The notice added that the alleged data manipulation and fabrication affected bar graphs in two of the paper’s figures.
Regular Retraction Watch readers may recall a remarkable story from January involving Harvard’s Lee Rubin and one of his graduate students. As we reported in Science at the time, the graduate student, Gustavo German, said he had been subjected to a forced psychiatric evaluation as “an act of revenge by Rubin, retaliation prompted by German’s allegation of scientific misconduct against Rubin and two of his students.” And a judge “agreed with German, concluding [last August] that Rubin was ‘motivated by bias and revenge, not by a legitimate interest in keeping German safe.'”
That led to a restraining order that required Rubin to remain 100 feet from German at all times — including in the lab where German was working on his PhD.
A prominent diabetes researcher based at Harvard Medical School has retracted a third paper, citing manipulation of multiple figures.
Late last year, Carl Ronald Kahn—also chief academic officer at Joslin Diabetes Center—retracted two papers for similar reasons. In November, Kahn pulled a 2005 paper from The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) and a month later, he retracted a 2003 paper from The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), both times citing duplications that the authors said were introduced while assembling the figures.
Last month, Kahn retracted his third paper, also published in JBC in 2003, because the authors omitted data when constructing the images. Still, the authors remain confident in their findings, given that data from other labs “have confirmed and extended the conclusions of the manuscript.”
The former president of the Joslin Diabetes Center has withdrawn a second article within a month of his first, and issued extensive corrections to another paper in the same journal, all due to figure errors.
In November, we reported that Carl Ronald Kahn — also affiliated with Harvard Medical School — had pulled a highly cited 2005 paper from The Journal of Clinical Investigation because of image duplication issues, which Kahn told us were introduced during figure assembly. This December, Kahn retracted a 2003 paper published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC)—again due to duplication issues that the authors believe “were inadvertently introduced during figure assembly.”
Last March, a PhD student at Harvard filed a misconduct allegation against his mentor, a prominent stem cell researcher. Three months later, he was taken from his home by police in the middle of the night for a forced psychiatric evaluation.
Retraction Watch readers may recall the case of Piero Anversa and Annarosa Leri, both formerly of Harvard and the Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. The pair — which has had their work subjected to a retraction, expression of concern, and correction — sued their former employers in 2014 for costing them job offers after the institutions notified journals, triggering notices. A judge dismissed the case a year ago, saying that Anversa and Leri had to try other administrative remedies before bringing suit.