Just how common is positive publication bias? Here’s one researcher who’s trying to figure that out

Robbie van Aert

While the presence of publication bias – the selective publishing of positive studies – in science is well known, debate continues about how extensive such bias truly is and the best way to identify it.

The most recent entrant in the debate is a paper by Robbie van Aert and co-authors, who have published a study titled “Publication bias examined in meta-analyses from psychology and medicine: A meta-meta-analysis” in PLoS ONE. Van Aert, a postdoc at the Meta-Research Center in the Department of Methodology and Statistics at Tilburg University, Netherlands, has been involved in the Open Science Collaboration’s psychology reproducibility project but has now turned his attention to understanding the extent of publication bias in the literature.

Using a sample of studies of psychology and medicine, the new “meta-meta-analysis” diverges from “previous research showing rather strong indications for publication bias” and instead suggests “only weak evidence for the prevalence of publication bias.” The analysis found mild publication bias influences psychology and medicine similarly.

Retraction Watch asked van Aert about his study’s findings. His answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

RW: How much are empiric analyses of publication bias influenced by the methods used? Based on your work, do you believe there is a preferred method to look at bias?

Continue reading Just how common is positive publication bias? Here’s one researcher who’s trying to figure that out

Should a paper on mindfulness have been retracted? A co-author weighs in

Myriam Hunink

Two weeks ago, we covered the retraction of a PLoS ONE paper on mindfulness following criticism — dating back to 2017 — by James Coyne. At the time, the corresponding author, Maria Hunink, of Erasmus and Harvard, had not responded to a request for comment. Hunink responded late last week, saying that she had been on vacation, and with her permission we are posting her comments — including a correction she and her co-authors had originally drafted –here in the spirit of what she called “a fair and open discussion on Retraction Watch.” 

We sent an email to PLoS ONE in response to their intention to retract our paper explaining why we disagree with retraction but it seems they did not change their statement and went ahead with retraction. We suggested that discussing the methodological issues is a more rational approach and beneficial than retraction but received no response.

In spite of its methodological limitations, we feel the paper is a valuable contribution. Continue reading Should a paper on mindfulness have been retracted? A co-author weighs in

Do wind turbines cause plagiarism? Energy researcher up to 20 retractions

By Narcisa Aciko

The editors of PLoS ONE have done something that we’re betting Donald Trump will never do: Retract a statement about noisy wind turbines.

The journal is pulling a 2014 article, titled “Adaptive neuro-fuzzy methodology for noise assessment of wind turbine,” after concluding that the researchers plagiarized. The corresponding author of the article is Shahaboddin Shamshirban, of the Department of Computer System and Information Technology at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the retraction isn’t his first. In fact, it’s not even the only one Shamshirban has in PLoS ONE this week. The journal also is retracting a 2016 paper from his group, bringing his total to 20, for sins including plagiarism and faked peer review.

According to the retraction notice for the turbine study, which has been cited 23 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science: Continue reading Do wind turbines cause plagiarism? Energy researcher up to 20 retractions

How one journal became a “major retraction engine”

If you think you’ve noticed more and more retractions at PLoS ONE recently, you’re not wrong.

The journal retracted 53 papers last year. That’s not a record — that belongs to a journal that retracted more than 400 papers at once — nor is it that many more than the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which retracted 39 last year. And it’s only about 3% of the year’s retractions. But it’s a dramatic increase, as this graphic shows: Continue reading How one journal became a “major retraction engine”

Maybe combining red wine and tea doesn’t kill tumors after all

According to the internet, Bear Grylls, the TV survivalist, said he “was always brought up to have a cup of tea at halfway up a rock face.” Which sounds too cute to be true and, given Grylls’ history of, um, buffing the hard edges of reality, almost certainly isn’t.

But Grylls appears to be far from alone in his tea hyperbole. A group of researchers in India has lost their 2011 paper in PLoS ONE on the synergistic effects of black tea and resveratrol — the compound in red wine touted as a fountain of youth —  on skin cancer for what (if we’re allowed to read the tea leaves) amounts to a cuppa apparent data fabrication.

Weak tea, indeed. And in mice, we should note, in a nod to “data thug” James Heathers’ most recent venture. Continue reading Maybe combining red wine and tea doesn’t kill tumors after all

PLOS ONE pulls highly cited mindfulness paper over undeclared ties, other concerns

James Coyne

PLoS ONE has retracted a meta-analysis on mindfulness after determining that the authors used dubious methodology and failed to adequately report their financial interest in the psychological treatment the article found effective.

The article, “Standardised mindfulness-based interventions in healthcare: An overview of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of RCTs,” appeared in April 2015 and has been cited 130 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, earning it a “highly cited paper” designation.

The authors, from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and Harvard University, included Herbert Benson, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. The institute (which has taken down its link to the paper) offers a raft of services for patients, including a Stress Management and Resiliency Program, a Mind Body Program for Health and Fertility, a Mind Body Program for Cancer, yoga, Tai Chi and initiatives to help foster “resilient youth.”

The decision comes after a long effort by James Coyne, an emeritus professor of psychology in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, to expose the undisclosed conflicts and other serious problems in the work and other studies with ties to Benson-Henry. Continue reading PLOS ONE pulls highly cited mindfulness paper over undeclared ties, other concerns

Author of retracted PLOS ONE paper wonders if he was punished for being honest

The stars did not align for a 2016 paper ancient astronomy in the Amazon region after the author discovered errors in his work that the journal deemed fatal to the case, although the author has objected to the retraction.

And the author feels as though he was punished for being honest. 

The article, “Solar-Aligned Pictographs at the Paleoindian Site of Painel do Pilão along the Lower Amazon River at Monte Alegre, Brazil,” was written by Christopher Davis, then at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, and appeared in PLOS ONE. According to the abstract: Continue reading Author of retracted PLOS ONE paper wonders if he was punished for being honest

“All very painful:” Two retractions to watch for, in eLife and PLOS ONE

We have news of two upcoming retractions, both following critiques on PubPeer.

PLOS ONE is retracting a 2012 paper by researchers at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità in Rome and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, “Interferon-β Induces Cellular Senescence in Cutaneous Human Papilloma Virus-Transformed Human Keratinocytes by Affecting p53 Transactivating Activity.”

PubPeer commenters first left critiques of the paper on August 6 of last year, noting likely splicing and other manipulation of images. Several days later, pseudonymous whistleblower Claire Francis contacted the journal to flag similar issues. On Wednesday of this week, a journal representative emailed Francis to say the paper would be retracted: Continue reading “All very painful:” Two retractions to watch for, in eLife and PLOS ONE

“We regret our delay:” PLOS ONE retracts two papers

PLOS ONE has retracted two papers for image problems, which we’ve learned were brought to the journal’s attention more than four years ago.

The first article came from a group of cancer researchers in China, and it turns out to have a bit more wrong than a few dodgy figures. The second also involved cancer research.

Asked about the delay, PLOS ONE told Retraction Watch: Continue reading “We regret our delay:” PLOS ONE retracts two papers

Former UAB natural products researcher up to a dozen retractions

Santosh Katiyar

A researcher who studied natural products for cancer at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), had six papers retracted last month, bringing him to a total of 12.

Four of the recently retracted papers by Santosh Katiyar had appeared in PLOS ONE, and two had been published in Cancer Research. They have together been cited more than 250 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, and are on subjects including compounds found in grape seeds and green tea.

Here’s an example, from PLOS ONE, for “Green Tea Catechins Reduce Invasive Potential of Human Melanoma Cells by Targeting COX-2, PGE2 Receptors and Epithelial-to-Mesenchymal Transition:” Continue reading Former UAB natural products researcher up to a dozen retractions