Inquiry finds no evidence of misconduct in high-profile Science paper flagged by allegations

scienceAn expert group at Uppsala University has recommended not proceeding with a full investigation into allegations of misconduct in a high-profile Science paper showing how human pollution may be harming fish.

The June paper — which caught the media’s attention for suggesting fish larvae are eating small particles of plastic rather than their natural prey — became the focus of scrutiny soon after it was published when a group of researchers raised allegations of misconduct. Earlier this year, Science told us it was considering issuing an Expression of Concern (EOC) for the paper, and Uppsala said it was conducting an inquiry, the first step in determining whether to launch a formal investigation.

The expert group who conducted the preliminary investigation has ultimately recommended against an investigation of the paper, according to an Uppsala spokesperson: Continue reading Inquiry finds no evidence of misconduct in high-profile Science paper flagged by allegations

Widely used brain tumor cell line may not be what researchers thought it was

Bengt Westermark
Bengt Westermark

Nearly 50 years ago, researchers in Uppsala, Sweden used cells from a patient to establish a brain tumor cell line that has become widely used. But a new study suggests that the most common source of that cell line used by scientists today may not be derived from that original patient’s tumor, raising questions about the results obtained in hundreds of studies.

In a new paper out today in Science Translational Medicine, Bengt Westermark, of Uppsala University, and colleagues describe what they found when they performed a forensic DNA analysis comparing the widely used version of the cell line to the original. The findings are consistent with those of other analyses in which cell lines turn out not to be what researchers thought, a problem we’ve focused some attention on.

Here’s an email interview with Westermark about the findings and their implications: Continue reading Widely used brain tumor cell line may not be what researchers thought it was

High-profile Science paper on fish and plastics may earn notice of concern

science mag coverScience is considering adding an expression of concern (EOC) to a June paper that caught the media’s attention for showing how human pollution may be harming fish, following allegations of research misconduct.

A group of researchers allege the paper — which suggested fish larvae are eating small particles of plastic rather than their natural prey — contains missing data and used a problematic methodology. After the researchers submitted a formal letter (available here), Uppsala University in Sweden is now conducting an inquiry, the first step in determining whether to launch a formal investigation.

A spokesperson from Science told Retraction Watch that once the journal independently verifies that an investigation is underway, it will issue an EOC for the paper: Continue reading High-profile Science paper on fish and plastics may earn notice of concern

How does Jeremy Berg plan to address reproducibility in Science?

Jeremy Berg
Jeremy Berg, via AAAS

The former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the U.S. National Institutes of Health has a new job. On July 1st, biochemist Jeremy Berg will take the helm as the editor-in-chief of Science. He’s currently the associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. We spoke to him about challenges he’ll be facing in his new role: treating science’s replication problem, boosting transparency, and making papers as widely available as possible.  

You told us in an earlier conversation that diagnosing and treating science’s replication problem is major issue in publishing. Can you give us some specifics about how you plan to address it at Science? Continue reading How does Jeremy Berg plan to address reproducibility in Science?

What does “reproducibility” mean? New paper seeks to standardize the lexicon

Science Translational MedicineWhat is the difference between “reproducible” and “replicable”? And how does each relate to results that are “generalizable” and “robust”?

Researchers are using these terms interchangeably, creating confusion over what exactly is needed to confirm a scientific result, argues a new paper published today in Science Translational Medicine.

Here’s how the US National Science Foundation (NSF) defines “reproducibility,” according to the authors: Continue reading What does “reproducibility” mean? New paper seeks to standardize the lexicon

Science names new editor-in-chief

Jeremy Berg
Jeremy Berg, via AAAS

Science has a new editor-in-chief.

As of July 1st, Jeremy M. Berg will be at the helm of the family of journals published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, replacing Marcia McNutt. McNutt is leaving to become president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Berg, now associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, has led the National Institute of General Medical Sciences at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), and was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) from 2012-2014.

Berg who said in an AAAS press release that he is “thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to work with the team at Science and AAAS,” assumes the role following a year in which one of the world’s most prominent academic journals has faced significant scrutiny. Continue reading Science names new editor-in-chief

Ecologists pull paper on how climate change affects moths after model mixup

science advancesEcologists have retracted a paper published only months ago in Science Advances, after realizing that they had misinterpreted a climate model.

The October paper examined the effects of climate change on populations of 155 species of British moths and butterflies. According to a press release from the authors’ institution, the University of York:

Using data collected by thousands of volunteers through ‘citizen science’ schemes, responses to recent climate change were seen to vary greatly from species to species.

But the authors quickly realized that the variation they had measured was not due to climate change alone, according to the retraction notice they issued for the paper last week:

Continue reading Ecologists pull paper on how climate change affects moths after model mixup

“Science advances incrementally:” Researchers who debunked gay canvassing study move field forward

David Broockman
Joshua Kalla

How easy is it to change people’s minds? In 2014, a Science study suggested that a short conversation could have a lasting impact on people’s opinions about gay marriage – but left readers disappointed when it was retracted only months later, after the first author admitted to falsifying some of the details of the study, including data collection. We found out about the problems with the paper thanks to Joshua Kalla at the University of California, Berkeley and David Broockman at Stanford University, who tried to repeat the remarkable findings. Last week, Kalla and Broockman published a Science paper suggesting what the 2014 paper showed was, in fact, correct – they found that 10-minute conversations about the struggles facing transgender people reduced prejudices against them for months afterwards. We spoke with Kalla and Broockman about the remarkable results from their paper, and the shadow of the earlier retraction.

Retraction Watch: Let’s start with your latest paper. You found that when hundreds of people had a short (average of 10 minutes) face-to-face conversation with a canvasser (some of whom were transgender), they showed more acceptance of transgender people three months later than people with the same level of “transphobia” who’d talked to the canvasser about recycling. Were you surprised by this result, given that a similar finding from Michael LaCour and Donald Green, with same-sex marriage, had been retracted last year? Continue reading “Science advances incrementally:” Researchers who debunked gay canvassing study move field forward

After 10 years, a whistleblower is vindicated. Here’s why he kept going.

Stefan Franzen
Stefan Franzen

Stefan Franzen doesn’t give up. Ten years ago, he began to suspect the data behind his colleagues’ research about using RNA to make palladium nanoparticles, a potentially valuable tool that ended up as a Science paper. Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) decided to cut off funding for Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldheim — currently at the University of Colorado at Boulder — and last week, Science retracted the paper. We talked to Franzen, based at North Carolina State University (NCSU), about his decade-long efforts, and how it feels to be finally vindicated.

Retraction Watch: How did you first begin to suspect the findings by Eaton and Feldheim?

Stefan Franzen: Starting in early 2005, I was collaborating with Drs. Eaton and Feldheim at NCSU, thanks to two joint grants from the W.M. Keck Foundation and NSF. During a group meeting in December of 2005, a graduate student showed electron microscopy data that were inconsistent with the assignment of the particles as palladium. Over time, we kept producing more data that called their findings into question; in April 2006, a postdoc showed that the hexagonal particles could be obtained without RNA. By then, I could see that there was a significant discrepancy between what was written in the articles and what was done and observed in the laboratory.

RW: How did you report your concerns?

Continue reading After 10 years, a whistleblower is vindicated. Here’s why he kept going.

After hesitating, Science retracts chemistry paper against authors’ wishes

F1.mediumToday, Science has retracted a 2004 paper that’s been under scrutiny for years, despite the authors’ objections.

This paper has a long backstory: Recently, a report from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Inspector General surfaced that announced the agency had cut off the authors from funding. Last month, editor Marcia McNutt told us that the journal planned to retract the paper as soon as possible. Then, on January 21st, “just as we were going to press with the retraction,” said McNutt, the authors submitted a correction, which Science wanted to take some time to consider.

Now, the paper has a retraction note, against the wishes of authors Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldheim, currently at the University of Colorado.

Here it is the retraction note:

Continue reading After hesitating, Science retracts chemistry paper against authors’ wishes