What Caught Our Attention: This is the fourth retraction for Robert Ryan, formerly a high-profile researcher studying infections that can be deadly in people with lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In 2016, the University of Dundee in Scotland determined that Ryan had committed research misconduct, including misrepresenting clinical data and duplicating images in a dozen different publications. (Ryan tried to appeal the decision, then resigned.) The latest retraction cites a few problems with the paper, including uncertainty about the provenance of some data.
According to the notice, the second-to-last author, George A. O’Toole at Dartmouth, disagrees with the text of the notice, not the decision to retract. We contacted O’Toole, who declined to comment.
We received a statement from Ryan about the retraction:
PNAS has corrected a highly cited paper after an investigation found evidence of misconduct.
The investigation—conducted jointly by the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco Veterans Administration Medical Center—uncovered image manipulation in Figure 2D, which “could only have occurred intentionally.” The institutions, however, could not definitively attribute the research misconduct to any individual.
According to the notice, the UCSF-VA committee determined that a correction to the 2008 PNAS paper—which explores the genetic underpinnings of prostate cancer—was “appropriate,” and the authors have now replaced the problematic figure with a corrected version. The 2008 paper has been cited 630 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
A cancer researcher based at The Ohio State University has retracted five papers from one journal, citing concerns about figures.
The notices for all five papers state the Journal of Biological Chemistry raised questions about some figures, and the authors were not able to supply raw data in all instances. Four of the notices say the authors offered to submit data from repeat experiments and corrected figures, which the journal declined.
According to Kaoru Sakabe, data integrity manager at JBC, the authors “agreed to withdraw these articles after we declined their offers.”
Molecular and Cellular Biology has retracted four papers published between 1987 to 2001 by Alfredo Fusco, a cancer researcher in Italy; the Journal of Virology retracted one 1985 paper. Fusco was first author on two papers and last author on three. Both journals are published by The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), which issued identical retraction notices for all five papers, mentioning “evidence of apparent manipulation and duplication.”
Carlo Croce, a cancer researcher now at the Ohio State University, who has been dogged by misconduct allegations, co-authored one of the papers. Croce now has eight retractions.
Although the reason for the retractions may sound odd, the editor, Minvydas Ragulskis, told Retraction Watch he was concerned an author had engaged in citation manipulation. Specifically, Ragulskis explained that the majority of the citations came from papers at a 2017 conference on which one of the authors, Magd Abdel Wahab, was chair—raising suspicion that he had asked conference presenters to cite his work.
Almost three-quarters of papers that cited Wahab’s work originated from the conference, which “is large enough to assume a high probability for citation manipulation,” Ragulskis said. (Wahab, Professor and Chair of Applied Mechanics at Ghent University in Belgium, was not a co-author on the conference papers that cited his work.)
Researchers in Norway have retracted a second high-profile exercise paper — again after running afoul of an ethical approval committee.
As part of the 2016 study, the researchers gave athletes asthma medication to measure its effect on signals from the nervous system to the lungs; although the drug appeared to have no detectable effect on the nervous system signals, 45 minutes after getting the drug, athletes (including those without asthma) showed an average slight increase in one measure of lung function.
Annette Birkeland, of The Norwegian National Research Ethics Committees (FEK), told us:
A journal has retracted a 2014 paper because of an authorship dispute that became the subject of litigation.
Last year, the Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh requested the paper be retracted to resolve the dispute. The Journal of Applied Biomaterials & Functional Materials retracted the paper in October.
According to the retraction notice, the principal investigator of a clinical trial on which some of the study is based was not included as a co-author, and claimed he had not “validated the accuracy of the data.”
The notice does not mention a lawsuit, but a letter from the authors’ research institution does.
Another front has opened up in the legal battle between the CrossFit exercise brand and a competitor, spurred by a now-retracted paper about the risk of injury from the workout program. Soon, a judge will decide whether CrossFit is entitled to learn the names of the study’s peer reviewers.
CrossFit has tried and failed to identify them before. If they’re successful now, it could help establish a new way to legally breach reviewer confidentiality; two outside lawyers we consulted said they’d never before seen a court order a journal to reveal an article’s peer reviewers.
On Jan. 18, Judge Joel Wohlfeil of the Superior Court of the State of California in San Diego is scheduled to hold a hearing on whether or not the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) should be compelled to unmask the reviewers for “Crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition.”
The article was published in 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (JSCR), the official research publication of the NSCA, and was retracted last year. It’s referred to as the “Devor article” in the court documents, after last author Steven Devor, a former professor at The Ohio State University (OSU).
A “discovery referee” assigned to the defamation case recentlyordered NSCA to provide CrossFit with the reviewers’ names, but NSCA is challenging those rulings, saying that they have the same right to protect their sources as journalists do.