Last October, Retraction Watch readers will recall, up-and-coming stem cell researcher Amy Wagers retracted a study in Nature describing how her team rejuvenated blood-forming stem cells in older mice. Shane Mayack, a postdoc in Wagers’ lab who had been dismissed after an inquiry into what happened, did not sign that retraction. Since then, Mayack has not spoken to the press, except for a brief comment to Naturethrough her attorney.
Here, we present, unedited, Mayack’s side of the story. While accepting responsibility, she also has a number of suggestions for how universities and journals can handle these situations better. Shane can be reached at smayck[at]yahoo.com.
Since it was well covered by this blog, the readers of Retraction Watch are no doubt aware that in October 2010, a paper that I co-authored was retracted from Nature and a notice of concern was posted regarding a second paper published in Blood.
If a paper is retracted, should papers that cite it get retracted, too? We’ve been on the lookout for this kind of move, which we figure is consistent with cleaning up the scientific record. Today, one appears in Nature.
Here at Retraction Watch, we’ve been following the case of Jatinder Ahluwalia with interest. You may recall that an investigation by University College London (UCL) found “beyond reasonable doubt” that Ahluwalia had renumbered files to deceive a co-author. UCL was also “highly confident” that Ahluwalia had messed with his solutions to make his results look better, and sabotaged his colleagues’ work. The report of that investigation was part of a Nature retraction notice.
We’ve now learned that UCL was not the first scene of misconduct by Ahluwalia. Yesterday, we obtained letters by University of Cambridge faculty and administrators describing repeated — and in the words of of one professor, amateurish — data fabrication by Ahluwalia that led to his dismissal from the university’s graduate program.
Ahluwalia “renumbered the files to deceive [another coauthor,] Professor [Lucie] Clapp as to the results of his patch clamping experiments,” adulterated his reagents so his results would look better, and sabotaged his colleagues’ work.
The panel said that the file renumbering charge was proven “beyond reasonable doubt,” and “that on the balance of probabilities it was highly confident” that the other two charges had been proven. It also concluded unanimously that Ahluwalia had acted alone.
Last week, we noted a Nature editorial in which the journal came clean about its higher-than-average number of retractions this year — four. What we missed was the fact that the fourth retraction of the year also appeared in last week’s issue.
This week’s Nature includes a refreshing and soul-searching editorial about retractions. Excerpt (we added links and corrected a misspelling and wrong country in the editorial after a reader noted the errors below):
This year, Nature has published four retractions, an unusually large number. In 2009 we published one. Throughout the past decade, we have averaged about two per year, compared with about one per year in the 1990s, excluding the pulse of retractions of papers co-authored by [Austrian German physicist Jan Hendrick Hendrik Schön].
Given that Nature publishes about 800 papers a year, the total is not particularly alarming, especially because only some of the retractions are due to proven misconduct. A few of the Nature research journals have also had to retract papers in recent years, but the combined data do no more than hint at a trend. A broader survey revealed even smaller proportions: in 2009, Times Higher Education commissioned a survey by Thomson Reuters that counted 95 retractions among 1.4 million papers published in 2008. But the same survey showed that, since 1990 — during which time the number of published papers doubled — the proportion of retractions increased tenfold (see http://go.nature.com/vphd17).
Amy Wagers, an up and coming stem cell researcher at Harvard who made a name for herself as a postdoc early by questioning the work of others, has retracted a January 2010 paper she co-authored in Nature. According to the retraction:
Three of the authors (J.L.S., F.S.K. and A.J.W.) wish to retract this Article after a re-examination of the publication raised serious concerns with some of the reported data. These concerns have undermined the authors’ confidence in the support for the scientific conclusions reported, specifically the role of osteopontin-positive niche cells in the rejuvenation of haematopoietic stem cells in aged mice. Although this matter is under further review, these authors wish to retract the paper in its entirety, and regret any adverse consequences that may have resulted from the paper’s publication. The retraction has not been signed by Shane R. Mayack, who maintains that the results are still valid.