When journals learn papers are problematic, how long does it take them to act?
We recently had a chance to find out as part of our continuing coverage of the case of Anil Jaiswal at the University of Maryland, who’s retracted 15 papers (including two new ones we recently identified), and has transitioned out of cancer research. Here’s what happened.
As part of a public records request related to the investigation, we received letters that the University of Maryland sent to 11 journals regarding 26 “compromised” papers co-authored by Jaiswal, four of which had been retracted by the time of the letter. The letters were dated between August and September 2016 (and one in February) — although, in some cases, the journals told us they received the letter later. Since that date, three journals have retracted nine papers and corrected another, waiting between four and six months to take action. One journal published an editorial note of concern within approximately two months after the university letter.
And six journals have not taken any public action.
falsified and/or fabricated Western blots in eighteen (18) figures and in six (6) published papers.
In 2012, the ORI finding, which resulted in a three-year funding ban (that is now complete), recommended that Elton retract all six papers, one of which had already been retracted at the time of the report.
Four years later, the last of the six papers flagged by the ORI has finally been retracted by Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology.
Here’s an interesting case: We’ve found two retracted papers that describe the same gene, and both have nearly identical retraction notices. What’s unusual is that the two papers don’t have any authors in common, and appeared in two different journals published by two different companies.
The cause of both papers’ demise: Plagiarism, and use of unpublished data without permission “from an unnamed source,” who wishes to remain that way. The author of one of the papers confirmed to us that the unnamed source is a “3rd party service company.” Springer told us that the third party in the other paper, however, is another researcher.
It’s a puzzling case, to be sure. We think we have uncovered some of what happened, but remain slightly fuzzy on the details.
Both retractions appeared in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, one in October 2014 and one in January 2015. His story began two decades ago in 1994, when he published a paper in Nature that couldn’t be reproduced, and was eventually retracted in 2013.
We recently came across a paper in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, an Elsevier title, that had been temporarily removed without explanation. While we see a fair number of such opaque notices from Elsevier — and have written about why we think they’re a bad idea — we took interest in this one because the last author, Toren Finkel of the NIH, was the corresponding author of a Nature paper retracted earlier this year. (He also had twocorrections on one Science paper, both of which are paywalled.)
What we learned suggests the withdrawal was completely unrelated to the Nature retraction, but also reveals a journal editor’s exasperation.
Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications has withdrawn a paper it published earlier this year on metabolic proteins linked to diabetes, not because the article was bogus but because the authors appear to have been. The work itself is accurate — indeed, it likely belongs to a Harvard scientist, Bruce Spiegelman, who’d presented his data on the subject several times recently and was in the process of preparing his results for publication. We’ve written about researchers trying to punk journals with faked articles, and about a researcher who apparently made up a co-author, but here’s something new!
Terry S. Elton, a researcher at Ohio State University in Columbus who studies genetic expression in various heart conditions and Down syndrome, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity for fabricating and/or falsifying data in a number of NIH grants and resulting papers.