Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Archive for the ‘nature publishing group’ Category

Ever been asked to remove a reference for libel concerns? These authors have

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Last month, Nature Ecology & Evolution published a series of responses to a previous article recommending essential reading for all ecologists. In one response, the authors argue that the list is highly biased in favor of white male authors, and raises the problem of bullying and harassment in academia. But the letter is missing one key reference from its original submission: To a recent news story in Science reporting “disturbing” sexual harassment allegations against a prominent field researcher.

Why is the reference missing?

Because the editor at Nature Ecology & Evolution asked the authors to take it out, citing concerns about libel.

Here’s the note the authors received on their original submission:

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Written by Alison McCook

January 10th, 2018 at 8:00 am

”Definitely embarrassing:” Nobel Laureate retracts non-reproducible paper in Nature journal

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A Nobel Laureate has retracted a 2016 paper in Nature Chemistry that explored the origins of life on earth, after discovering the main conclusions were not correct.  

Some researchers who study the origins of life on Earth have hypothesized that RNA evolved before DNA or proteins.  If true, RNA would have needed a way to replicate without enzymes. The Nature Chemistry paper found that a certain type of peptide — which may have existed in our early history — made it possible for RNA to copy itself.

Jack W. Szostaka professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider for their pioneering research on aging—told us he was “incredibly excited” when he “thought we had at least a partial solution to this problem,” which researchers have been working on for over 50 years.  

But in subsequent experiments, Tivoli Olsen — a member of Szostak’s lab — could not reproduce the 2016 findings. When she reviewed the experiments from the Nature Chemistry paper, she found that the team had misinterpreted the initial data: The peptide in question did not appear to provide an environment that fostered RNA replication.

The errors were “definitely embarrassing,” Szostak told us: Read the rest of this entry »

Journal to assemble “senior editorial committee” to review paper that led to board resignations

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Following heavy criticism of its decision to correct — instead of retract — a paper accused of plagiarism, Scientific Reports is adding an editor’s note to the paper and forming a committee to review the case.

The 2016 paper in question has been accused of plagiarism by a researcher at Johns Hopkins, Michael Beer. Following the initial allegation, the journal decided to correct, not retract, the paper. After we covered the story, nearly two dozen Hopkins researchers threatened to resign if the journal didn’t retract the paper. This week, the journal reaffirmed its initial decision, and the resignations are pouring in.

Yesterday, Suzanne Farley, Executive Editor of Scientific Reports, a Nature Publishing Group journal, sent us a statement:

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Written by Alison McCook

November 10th, 2017 at 8:00 am

17 Johns Hopkins researchers resign in protest from ed board at Nature journal

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More than a dozen members of the editorial board at Scientific Reports have resigned after the journal decided not to retract a 2016 paper that a researcher claims plagiarized his work.

As of this morning, 19 people — mostly researchers based at Johns Hopkins — had stepped down from the board, according to Hopkins researcher Steven Salzberg. Salzberg organized the response after learning of the issue from colleague Michael Beer, who has accused the 2016 paper of plagiarism.

Monday morning, Richard White, the editor of the journal (published by Springer Nature), sent an email to Salzberg and the researchers who had threatened to resign if the paper wasn’t retracted, saying:

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Written by Alison McCook

November 7th, 2017 at 11:02 am

“My dog ate the data:” Eight excuses journal editors hear

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As a journal editor, are you tired of hearing the same excuses from authors who are facing allegations of problematic data? If so, you’re not alone.

Recently, an editor of the journal Oncogene co-authored an editorial in the journal listing the types of excuses he often hears — and why none of them is valid. Writing the article with editor Justin Stebbing of Imperial College/Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust is David Sanders of Purdue University. Sanders himself has raised allegations of misconduct against a cancer researcher (and is currently being sued for defamation as a result).

Here are the problematic excuses they encounter:

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Written by Alison McCook

October 26th, 2017 at 9:27 am

21 faculty at Johns Hopkins threaten to resign from board if journal doesn’t retract paper

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More than 20 faculty members at Johns Hopkins University have signed a letter to Scientific Reports saying they will resign from the editorial board if the journal doesn’t retract a 2016 paper.

The paper is problematic, they argue, because a biologist at Johns Hopkins claims it plagiarized his work. One of that biologist’s colleagues at Hopkins has already resigned from the journal’s editorial board over its decision to correct (and not retract) the paper; last week, another 21 people told the journal they’d do the same.

The letter to the journal also includes a side-by-side comparison between the 2016 paper and the work it allegedly plagiarized. The board members note:

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Written by Alison McCook

October 17th, 2017 at 11:22 am

Are rich people meaner? While trying to find out, two teams find errors in each other’s work

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Is having money linked to bad behavior?

A high profile paper published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) set out to answer that question — and found that yes, the more money people have, the more likely they are to lie, cheat, and steal. And the greedier they are, the worse they behave. But when a more recent paper tried to replicate some of those findings, it couldn’t.

It turns out, both the original paper and the paper that tried to replicate it contained errors. Although neither appear to affect the main conclusions, the authors of the 2016 replication recently issued a correction; the error in the 2012 paper was initially deemed too insignificant to correct, but the journal has decided to revisit the idea of issuing a correction.

A representative of PNAS told us that the replication paper — and reporting by Retraction Watch — is the reason why: Read the rest of this entry »

Board member resigns from journal over handling of paper accused of plagiarism

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A biologist is crying foul at a journal’s decision to correct (and not retract) a paper he claims plagiarized his work — and one of his colleagues has resigned from the journal’s editorial board as a result.

The 2016 paper, published by Scientific Reports, is an application of a previously published algorithm designed to better identify regulatory sequences in DNA. The three authors, based at the Shenzhen campus of the Harbin Institute of Technology, used the technique to identify recombination spots in DNA. They called it SVM-gkm.

On April 2, Michael Beer of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore notified the editors of Scientific Reports that he believed the paper had plagiarized his work. Despite Beer’s efforts, the journal ultimately decided to issue a correction notice, which cites “errors” and the authors’ failure to credit Beer’s work. That isn’t good enough for Beer — nor one of his colleagues at Johns Hopkins, who resigned from the journal’s editorial board saying “the recent affair with Mike Beer’s work being plagiarized did not impress me.

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Nature adds alert to heavily debated paper about gene editing

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Nature has added an “editor’s note” to a high-profile August paper alerting readers to the fact that the article has been subject to criticism.

Journals often flag papers that are being debated — what’s unusual here is that the journal doesn’t label the notice as an official “Expression of Concern,” which are indexed by PubMed. Yet the Nature notice reads just like an expression of concern.

Here’s the text of the new notice, which was added October 2 (and spotted by Paul Knoepfler):

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Nature tags glacier paper with note of concern due to data mix-up

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Nature has tagged a recent paper on the importance of glacial melt to water supply in Asia with an expression of concern (EoC), after receiving a tip that the author had misused some data.

The EoC for “Asia’s glaciers are a regionally important buffer against drought,” published by Hamish Pritchard, a glaciologist at the British Antarctic Survey, came out today. The May 11, 2017 article — which has been cited three times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science — considers the contribution of glaciers to water supply in Central Asia and the potential for glacier loss to exacerbate water stress in the region. The paper received limited news coverage when it came out from science sites, including

Pritchard appears to have improperly used a particular data set — an error that was reported to the journal by two outside experts within weeks after the paper was published.  Read the rest of this entry »