A prominent (yet controversial) journalist in Australia has admitted to duplicating three images that were part of her PhD thesis — a practice outside experts agreed was acceptable, if not ideal, at the time, according to a report released today.
As part of an inquiry, the University of Adelaide convened an expert panel to investigate 17 allegations of duplication and/or manipulation in Maryanne Demasi’s 2004 thesis. Duplication is a common reason for retractions, such as when researchers use the same image to depict the results of different experiments.
Regarding the allegations of misconduct in Demasi’s thesis, the originals of the images in question were long gone, so in 14 instances, an expert concluded it was not possible to conclude whether or not duplication had occurred. But in the remaining three instances, Demasi admitted she had “duplicated or probably duplicated” the images:
For months, a researcher has wrestled with a journal over the wording of an upcoming retraction notice. It appears that she has lost.
Earlier this week, Cell retracted the paper, despite the protests of first author Shalon Babbitt Ledbetter. When Ledbetter learned the journal was planning to retract the biochemistry paper over image manipulations, but wouldn’t name the culprit in the notice, she shared her concerns on PubPeer. Although a 2015 letter sent to Cell from Saint Louis University identified last author Dorota Skowyra as responsible for multiple manipulations, the journal wasn’t planning to say Skowyra was responsible in the retraction notice. Which would leave all other authors — particularly Ledbetter — under a cloud of suspicion.
Now, Cell Press has finally retracted the paper, along with another paper in Molecular Cell that lists Skowyra as corresponding author. Both notices describe image manipulations that were investigated by Saint Louis University (SLU). Neither identifies who is responsible.
Here’s something we haven’t seen before: The U.S. Office of Research Integrity has issued a second notice for a former researcher at the National Institutes of Health, after determining she withheld information during the first investigation.
Paul Brookes is a biologist with a passion for sleuthing out fraud. Although he studies mitochondria at the University of Rochester, he also secretly ran a science-fraud.org, a site for people to post their concerns about papers. Following legal threats, he revealed he was the author and shut the site in 2013 — but didn’t stop the fight. Recently, he’s co-authored a paper that’s slightly outside his day job: Partnering with computer scientist Daniel Acuna at Syracuse University and computational biologist Konrad Kording at the University of Pennsylvania, they developed a software to help detect duplicated images. If it works, it would provide a much needed service to the research community, which has been clamoring for some version of this for years. So how did this paper — also described by Nature News — come about?
Retraction Watch: Dr. Brookes, you study mitochondria. What brought you to co-author a paper about software to detect duplications?
What Caught Our Attention: In the span of 48 hours, PLOS ONE retracted two papers this month that were co-authored by Bo Yu, based at Key Laboratories of Education Ministry for Myocardial Ischemia Mechanism and Treatment and The Second Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University in China. Both notices cite multiple duplications and errors, and conclude:
What Caught Our Attention: Usually, when journals publish corrections to articles, they also correct the original article, except when the original is unavailable online. When Nature noticed that some figure panels in a 20-year-old paper were duplicated, it flagged the issue for readers — but didn’t correct the online version of the original paper. According to the notice, the duplications don’t disturb the conclusion illustrated by the figure, the original data couldn’t be found, and the last two authors had retired. We contacted a spokesperson at Nature, who told us “the information at the start of the paper clearly links to the corrigendum.” Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Yes, a 20-year-old article is wrong — but it won’t be corrected online
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.