On March 30, 2018, The Ohio State University (OSU) released a 75-page report concluding that Ching-Shih Chen, a cancer researcher, had deviated “from the accepted practices of image handling and figure generation and intentionally falsifying data.” The report recommended the retraction of eight papers.
By the end of August of 2018, Chen had had four papers retracted — one in Cancer Research, two in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, and one in PLoS ONE.
But it wasn’t until more than a year after the report was released that the other four papers — two from Carcinogenesis, one from Clinical Cancer Research, and one from Molecular Cellular Therapeutics — were retracted, all between April 1 and May 1 of this year.
What took so long? Your guess is as good as ours; none of the editors of those journals responded to our requests for comment.
Retraction Watch readers may know the name Elisabeth Bik, whose painstaking work inspecting tens of thousands of Western blot images has led to dozens of retractions in journals including PLOS ONE. Today in The Scientist, we profile Bik, a microbiologist who calls herself a “super-introvert.”
Three of the retractions appeared in RSC Advances, two appeared in Journal of Materials Chemistry B, and one each appeared in Journal of Materials Chemistry A, Journal of Materials Chemistry C, Biomaterials Science, and CrystEngComm.
A researcher at the University of Kentucky who studies the cancer risks of toxic chemicals has retracted three papers.
All of the retraction notices, which appear in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, refer to some kind of image duplication. The papers were originally published between 2014 and 2017, with the 2014 paper cited 39 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
Five journals published by a prominent cancer research society have retracted a total of 10 papers — most of them by a former researcher at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Nine of the 10 retractions share that researcher, Bharat Aggarwal, as an author. Aggarwal — who more than five years ago threatened to sue us for reporting on an investigation into his work — is now up to 28 retractions, and has left his post at MD Anderson. The AACR is also appending an editor’s note to eight of his other papers — but it has not explained the reason for what it acknowledges is a lag in moving on these articles.
When the journal issued expressions of concern for four papers co-authored by José Ignacio Rodriguez-Crespo about the allegations (which had also been raised on PubPeer), it notified his institution, the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM). The newly issued correction notices explain that UCM investigated the four papers, and the data support the results and conclusions. In two cases, the authors supplied the original data, and in the others, they replicated the experiments.
Rodriguez-Crespo declined to comment, saying only that the journal
In a new preprint posted to bioRxiv, image sleuths scanned hundreds of papers published over a seven-year period in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), published by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The researchers — Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins University, Elisabeth Bik of uBiome, Ferric Fang of the University of Washington (also on the board of directors of our parent non-profit organization), Roger Davis of the University of Massachusetts (and former MCB editor), and Amy Kullas, ASM’s publication ethics manager — found 59 potentially problematic papers, of which five were retracted. Extrapolating from these findings and those of another paper that scanned duplication rates, the researchers propose that tens of thousands of papers might need to be purged from the literature. That 35,000 figure is double the amount of retractions we’ve tallied so far in our database, which goes back to the 1970s. We spoke with the authors about their findings — and how to prevent bad images from getting published in the first place.
Retraction Watch: You found 59 potential instances of inappropriate duplication — how did you define this, and validate that the images were problematic?