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.
On June 25, 2015, following an investigation into the work of a then-graduate student at University College Cork in Ireland, the senior author of a 2014 paper in PLOS ONE requested its retraction. The paper, said senior author Zubair Kabir in an email to Iratxe Puebla, the journal’s managing editor, was “fundamentally flawed.”
Puebla responded on July 1, saying she would contact the graduate student — Olurotimi Bankole Ajagbe, corresponding author of the paper — and get back to Kabir. A few more emails, including one on Aug. 26, 2015, in which Ajagbe also requested the retraction, resulted. On August 31, Puebla wrote to Ivan Perry, head of Cork’s department of public health, where Ajagbe had been working on his PhD, to say she would discuss the case with colleagues and follow up.
A professor specializing in the health of children and pregnant women has left her post at the University of Glasgow, and issued three retractions in recent months.
All three notices — issued by PLOS ONE — mention an investigation at the university, which found signs of data manipulation and falsification. Fiona Lyall, the last author on all three papers, is also the only author in common to all three papers; she did not respond to the journal’s inquiries.
According to the University of Glasgow, the affiliation listed for Lyall, she is no longer based at the university. When we asked about the circumstances of her departure, the spokesperson told us the university has a “commitment to confidentiality,” but noted:
A year ago, PLOS ONE published a study claiming that there was strong evidence that a person wrapped in the Shroud of Turin — according to lore, the burial shroud of Jesus Christ — had suffered “strong polytrauma.”
In April 2015, two high-profile chemistry bloggers — and their commenters — raised questions about a paper that had been published in PLOS ONE some 18 months earlier. More than three years later, the journal has now retracted the paper, with a notice that echoes the 2015 blog posts.
If you’ve been pausing at some detailed PLOS ONE notices lately — such as one issued last month for a cancer paper that lists 21 shortcomings — you’re not alone.
According to a spokesperson for the publisher, the journal has been progressively pushing towards more transparency in its notices — in part, because it was getting too many calls from our reporters, asking about details that weren’t in the notice but that were “easily answerable.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a journal become more transparent following these kinds of questions — the Journal of Biological Chemistry, for instance, has become much more informative in its retraction notice, following criticism for its previous opacity.
Both the spokesperson and editor Joerg Heber, who took the role in November 2016, were quick to clarify that the increase in detail of notices is not only due to our queries — instead, it’s meant to benefit the entire scientific community. According to the spokesperson:
What Caught Our Attention: A tree of life paper has been axed — and based on the information in the retraction notice, we’re wondering how it ever passed peer review.
Specifically, the notice states a review of the paper found “concerns regarding the study design, methodology, and interpretation of the data.” Overall, the research “contradict(s) a large body of existing literature and do(es) not provide a sufficient level of evidence to support the claims made in the paper.” Um, so what did it get right?