In 2014, a journal contacted researcher Denis Rousseau about one of his papers that had just been published online ahead of print, raising some concerns. According to Rousseau, he sent the journal a corrected figure “almost immediately,” which he believed addressed the issue.
Rousseau, a cell biologist at the University Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France, said he then contacted the journal many times over the next three years to ask about the status of the paper — which never ended up in print — but heard nothing back.
Three years passed.
In March, the publisher finally contacted Rousseau, this time to ask him to issue a formal retraction for the paper. And despite his objections, Molecular and Cellular Biology published a sparse retraction notice, which provides little information about what went wrong:
A pair of stem cell researchers have earned two corrections, the result of images that were mislabeled, distorted, or compiled incorrectly, according to the notices.
Kang Cheng prepared the gels when he was a research fellow in last author Sanjeev Gupta‘s lab at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Gupta told us he reviewed the original gels, and the errors didn’t affect the conclusions in the papers, which were reproducible. He noted he believes the problems are the result of honest mistakes:
The errors did not confer any benefits whatsoever either for the papers or for Dr. Cheng.
On PubPeer, commenters have raised questions about the now corrected papers — along with several others on which Gupta is the senior author, but Cheng is not a co-author.
Edward Burns, research integrity officer at Einstein, told us that the medical school looked into an allegation of misconduct against Gupta:
A study on chronic liver inflammation was pulled from the journal Hepatology because of “insufficient permission by the authors’ funding institution to submit and publish the manuscript.”
The paper, which was published in July, looked into how steatosis, the abnormal retention of fat in the liver, turns into steatohepatitis, also known as fatty liver disease. Researchers found that Treg cells play a central role in controlling the disease.
Unfortunately, the journal’s managing editor didn’t provide any information about the nature of the permission problems, and the notice doesn’t give any details.
A former postdoc at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) committed misconduct in a study of hepatitis by falsely claiming that data from a single trial subject were actually from more than a dozen different people, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) has found.
The investigation was prompted by allegations made by readers of the paper. Baoyan Xu made what the ORI called “a limited admission” that “some better looking strips were repeatedly used as representatives for several times [sic].”
The liver is the only internal organ that can regenerate. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Egyptian researchers tried to publish the same paper about liver ischemia twice in different journals. They succeeded — for a little while, at least.
Trouble was, in 2011 Moustafa and Boshra, in that order, had also published “Effect of fenofibrate on the experimentally induced hepatic ischemia/reperfusion injury in rats: biochemical, light, and electron microscopic studies” in the Egyptian Journal of Histology (link to pdf).
The retraction count continues to grow for a group of Iranian scientists who appear to have published similar work four times.
The group was forced to retract a Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases paper in March. That retraction came alongside one in the New Zealand Journal of Medical Laboratory Science, whose editor had tipped JGLD editor Monica Acalovschi — who has taken a tough stance on duplication in her own journal, published in Romania — off to the duplication. Acalovschi, in turn, tipped off Biochemia Medica, the journal of Croatian Society of Medical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine, which has now retracted a 2009 paper by the group.