Some quick thoughts and links on Andrew Wakefield, the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and fraud

If you’re a savvy Retraction Watch reader — or if you’ve paid any attention at all to the news in the last 18 hours — you will have heard by now that the BMJ has called Andrew Wakefield’s work on autism and the MMR vaccine a “hoax.”

The February 2010 retraction of the original Wakefield paper in the Lancet was, of course, a huge deal. If there were a Canon of Scientific Retractions, it would be in it. It happened before we launched Retraction Watch, however, so we haven’t commented much on it.

We plan on writing about major retractions in history, but the frequency of fascinating timely ones hasn’t abated enough yet to let us do that. (One exception: Our Best of Retractions series.) And in any case, there have been a lot of pixels spilled on this one already, so we’re not sure we have much to add. That’s the nice thing about the web: It leaves us free to curate as well as create.

One comment we want to offer is that the investigation by Brian Deer in the BMJ Continue reading Some quick thoughts and links on Andrew Wakefield, the BMJ, autism, vaccines, and fraud

Update on the Gressner case: Son Olav says he’s the unfairly targeted “bête noire”

We have an update on the case of Olav and Axel Gressner, a father-son (or, in this case, son-father) pair of German liver researchers caught up in a fraud investigation. The inquiry focused on Olav, who left the University of Aachen under a cloud of suspicion. A 2008 research letter on which he was a co-author (his father was senior author) was retracted earlier this year by the Journal of Hepatology.

The journal’s position in the retraction notice,  published online in June and in print in September, bears repeating here. The authors: Continue reading Update on the Gressner case: Son Olav says he’s the unfairly targeted “bête noire”

ORI comes down (hard) on Bengu Sezen, Columbia chemist accused of fraud

The Office of Research Integrity has thrown a heavy book at Bengu Sezen, a former chemist at Columbia University, alleging that school and agency investigators turned up 21 instances of research misconduct by the disgraced scientist.

According to the agency: Continue reading ORI comes down (hard) on Bengu Sezen, Columbia chemist accused of fraud

It’s poll time: Should a retraction during graduate school mean losing your PhD?

photo by secretlondon123 via flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/secretlondon/

A few weeks ago, we reported on the case of Emily Horvath, a promising scientist at Indiana University who admitted to falsifying data to make her results look better. Some of that data went into her PhD thesis. That prompted a Retraction Watch reader to ask whether scientists who commit such fraud should be stripped of their PhDs. We figured that was a good poll question, so let us know what you think.

More on Ahluwalia et al Nature retraction, from Tom DeCoursey

Yesterday,we posted on the retraction of a 2004 Nature paper on innate immunity whose findings had been questioned by two groups. A few hours after we posted that item, we heard back from the senior author of one of the papers doubting that data, Tom DeCoursey. DeCoursey makes a number of important points, so we thought it would be a good idea to share them as a post: Continue reading More on Ahluwalia et al Nature retraction, from Tom DeCoursey

Previously questioned Nature paper on innate immunity retracted

courtesy Nature

Last week, we noted a Nature editorial in which the journal came clean about its higher-than-average number of retractions this year — four. What we missed was the fact that the fourth retraction of the year also appeared in last week’s issue.

The retraction, of a paper called “The large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ channel is essential for innate immunity,” reads (link to the author’s homepage added): Continue reading Previously questioned Nature paper on innate immunity retracted

Third retraction for Indiana University scientist who altered figures in NIH-funded research

Another shoe has dropped in the case of Emily M. Horvath, the Indiana researcher whose tinkering with figures while on a $369,000 federal grant ended in sanctions by government officials.

Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, an Elsevier title, has retracted another paper on which Horvath was an author, bringing to three the number of her articles tainted in the scandal. The paper, “A novel membrane-based anti-diabetic action of atorvastatin,” was published online in June 2008, and cited four times since, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. (Atorvastatin is sold as Lipitor.) According to the journal: Continue reading Third retraction for Indiana University scientist who altered figures in NIH-funded research

Rheumatology journal retracts tai chi-arthritis paper over fraud concerns

Most retractions happen in the dark: An article appears in print. One day it is withdrawn, with only a brief paragraph or two on the page to alert us to its fate.

On rare occasions, however, the process is more transparent, and when that happens it’s like the publishing equivalent of a supernova, a chance to glimpse in (here’s where the cosmic analogy stalls) almost real-time the retraction as it unfolds.

Here’s one of those unusual events.

The Journal of Clinical Rheumatology this week has retracted a March 2010 paper by Ni and colleagues in China, in which the authors reported that elderly women with osteoarthritis of the knee gained significant improvement in physical function and pain from a six-week course of tai chi. That claim is hardly controversial—other researchers have produced similar results and published studies of tai chi’s benefits for arthritis patients date back nearly a decade on Medline.

But the appearance of the article prompted an extraordinary letter to the journal, also published this week, from Chenchen Wang, of Tufts University, who smelled a rat. (Wang recently published a study of tai chi and fibromyalgia in the New England Journal of Medicine, which was criticized by some.) Of the Ni paper she writes (we added a link): Continue reading Rheumatology journal retracts tai chi-arthritis paper over fraud concerns

What happens after a retraction for falsified data? An example from Endocrinology

In the world of scientific misconduct, it’s often worth keeping track of what happens to scientists whose papers were retracted because of falsified or otherwise fraudulent results.

Take the case of Hung-Shu Chang. Last week, the the federal Office of Research Integrity announced that it had closed its investigation into the scientist’s misdeeds. Chang was a visiting postdoctoral researcher from Taiwan who in 2005 had come to the renowned Skinner Laboratory at Washington State University to study the effects of endocrine disruptors — a class of compounds that includes BPA and which have been shown to disrupt the action of hormones — on sex cells.

Chang was accused of falsifying data in a 2006 paper in Endocrinology — later retracted — reporting the damaging effects of vinclozolin, a fungicide used to protect vineyards, on the genetic integrity of sperm cells.

According to federal and university investigators, Chang, who has since returned to Taiwan, “fabricated and falsified data” central to the authors’ claim that vinclozolin could alter sperm in such a way that the mutations could cause disease in future generations. Such mutations are referred to as epigenetic changes. Continue reading What happens after a retraction for falsified data? An example from Endocrinology

Liver spots: Hepatology journal yanks research letter on caffeine-fibrosis link, saying authors falsified data

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