Sometimes, apparently, a retraction isn’t enough to put research findings to bed forever. Consider this obituary recently posted online at the Journal of Pediatrics, for a method of detecting gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in children:
We commonly recognize the contributions of distinguished members of the pediatric community and, with regret, their passing. It is appropriate, therefore, that we acknowledge the timely death of an old friend, the pH probe. Crushed to death under the weight of evidence against it, it was found abandoned in a trash can with a note that read, ‘‘Good riddance to a bad test.’’
To be fair, the pH probe has always been the standard bearer for mediocrity.
The obituary goes on: Continue reading Beyond retractions: A technique gets an obituary
When is an advance not an advance?
Biotechnology Advances has retracted a 2008 review by researchers in India who allegedly stole chunks of their manuscript from several sources including journal articles, Wikipedia, and StateMaster.com, a statistics clearinghouse.
According to the notice, the article, titled “Microbial production of dihydroxyacetone” Continue reading Microbial reproduction: Plagiarism from Wikipedia, elsewhere leads to retraction of biotech paper
Although Retraction Watch might have been born just before yesterday, we find it instructive to look back in time for items we would have covered had we been around a bit longer. We’ll do this periodically to generate a “Best Of” collection of retractions that catch our eye both for what they might suggest about scientific publishing and for good old-fashioned interest. Here’s the first installment:
A furtive attempt to play politics with a galley proof led to the retraction of a paper on Middle East water policy a few months ago. The article, “Optimizing irrigation water use in the West Bank, Palestine,” appeared in the February 2010 issue of Agricultural Water Management, an Elsevier journal. Written by Palestinian and Dutch researchers, the article modeled various scenarios of water and crop policies in the West Bank in an effort to determine the most efficient use of resources.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the printer. The authors decided to make a political protest of sorts in the galleys, a ham-handed gesture that led to the retraction of the paper, as the journal explained in a note: Continue reading Best Of Retractions, Part I: Water, water, everywhere, except in “Historical Palestine,” aka Israel
Last month, we wrote about the retraction of a 2005 paper suggesting that some adult stem cells might give rise to cancer. That, of course, would be a problem if researchers tried treating heart disease and other conditions with them. The paper’s authors retracted it, however, when it became clear that instead of being transformed — that’s the scientific word for “became cancerous” — the cells had simply become contaminated and overgrown with tumor cells used in research.
We had some questions for the authors of the original paper, and for the editor of the journal. Last week, we heard back from one of the paper’s authors, Javier Garcia-Castro, who had been on vacation without Internet access for weeks. In an email to Retraction Watch, Garcia-Castro wrote: Continue reading Update on stem cell-cancer link retraction: Why not everyone signed, and why authors ended up in another journal first
Yesterday we reported on a retraction in a European liver journal involving post-acceptance shenanigans by a group of German researchers including a father and son, Axel and Olav Gressner. Well, it turns out there’s a bit more there there.
Didier Samuel, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Hepatology, where the team’s letter to the editor was retracted, tells Retraction Watch he was contacted earlier this year by the University of Aachen. The university was investigating potential misconduct by Olav Gressner. The journal launched its own inquiry, leading to the retracted letter, Samuel says.
Samuel’s journal has not pulled any other papers from the Gressners. However, the group “is not encouraged to submit to our journal” in the future, he says. Although the lab has claimed that “typewritten errors” were to blame for the alerted manuscript, Samuels says, “the editors were not convinced” of this explanation. Continue reading Update: German university investigating authors who retracted caffeine-liver fibrosis letter
Work from a prolific father-son team of liver researchers in Germany has come under scrutiny after accusations that they falsified data in a 2009 letter to the editor that appeared in the Journal of Hepatology.
The letter, retracted in the September issue (after an online notice in June), referred to a 2008 article in the journal by Axel Gressner, his son Olav, and their colleagues at University Hospital in Aachen in which the authors reported that doses of caffeine might be an effective treatment for liver fibrosis, scarring of the organ that results from chronic ailments such as cirrhosis or hepatitis.
Epidemiologic evidence has suggested that people who drink coffee are somewhat protected from liver fibrosis—although some experts dispute the purported connection—and the German group claimed to have been among the first to find a plausible molecular mechanism for the link. Their November 2008 paper on the subject has been cited 16 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Science, a hefty number for just 22 months.
In their follow-up letter, they went a step further, stating that injecting rats with caffeine blocked the expression of a key protein associated with growth of connective tissue necessary for the formation of liver scars.
But the evidence backing the letter appears to be far weaker than the researchers initially let on. Continue reading Liver spots: Hepatology journal yanks research letter on caffeine-fibrosis link, saying authors falsified data
Marc Hauser, a prominent Harvard psychology researcher and author, will be taking a leave of absence from the university following “a lengthy internal investigation found evidence of scientific misconduct in his laboratory” that has led to the retraction of one of his papers, according to The Boston Globe.
The retraction, of a 2002 paper in Cognition, reads, in part: “An internal examination at Harvard University . . . found that the data do not support the reported findings. We therefore are retracting this article,” the Globe reports. It also includes the sentence “MH accepts responsibility for the error.”
The retraction notice does not yet appear anywhere on the journal’s site, where the PDF version of the study is still available, nor on the Medline abstract. Its circumstances appear to be atypical, according to the Globe: Continue reading Monkey business? 2002 Cognition paper retracted as prominent psychologist Marc Hauser takes leave from Harvard
Post by Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus
The unfolding drama of Anil Potti — a Duke researcher who posed as a Rhodes Scholar and appears to have invented key statistical analyses in a study of how breast cancer responds to chemotherapy — has sent ripples of angst through the cancer community. Potti’s antics prompted editors of The Lancet Oncology to issue an “expression of concern” — a Britishism that might be better expressed as “Holy Shit!” — about the validity of a 2007 paper in their journal by Potti and others.
Unlike newspapers, which strive for celerity as much as accuracy, science journals have the luxury of time. Thorough vetting, through editorial boards, peer reviewers and other filters, is the coin of the realm.
And yet mistakes happen. Sometimes these slips are merely technical, requiring nothing more than an erratum notice calling attention to a backwards figure or an incorrect address for reprints. Less often but far more important are the times when the blunders require that an entire article be pulled. For a glossary of the spectrum between erratum and retraction — including expression of concern — see this piece, commissioned by one of us, Ivan, while he was at The Scientist.
Retractions are born of many mothers. Fraud is the most titillating reason, and mercifully the most rare, but when it happens the results can be devastating. Consider the case of Scott Reuben, a prodigiously dishonest anesthesiologist whose fabrications led to the retraction of more than a score of papers and deeply rattled an entire medical specialty. (One of us, Adam, broke that story.)
So why write a blog on retractions? Continue reading Why write a blog about retractions?