Should a journal retract a paper the authors didn’t know contained bad data?

A medical journal has retracted a 2016 paper over a series of errors, prompting it to lose faith in the paper overall. The authors have objected to the decision, arguing the errors weren’t their fault and could be revised with a correction — rather than retracting what they consider “an important contribution” to an ongoing debate in medicine.

The paper explored the so-called weekend effect—that patients admitted to the emergency department on the weekend are more likely to die than those admitted on a weekday. Whether the weekend effect is real is not clear. Some studies have supported the phenomenon in certain areas of medicine, but others (including the now-retracted paper) have failed to find an effect.

First author Mohammed A. Mohammed, based at the University of Bradford in the UK, told Retraction Watch that the errors were introduced by one of the hospitals that provided them the data:

Continue reading Should a journal retract a paper the authors didn’t know contained bad data?

Study that said hate cuts 12 years off gay lives fails to replicate

A highly cited paper has received a major correction as a result of the ongoing battle over attitudes towards gay people, when a prominent — and polarizing — critic showed it could not be replicated.  

In December 2017, researchers led by Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University corrected the paper, originally published in Social Science & Medicine in February 2014, which showed that gay people who live in areas where people were highly prejudiced against them had a significantly shorter life expectancy. The corrigendum came more than a year after a researcher who has testified against same-sex marriage was unable to replicate the original study.

“Structural stigma and all-cause mortality in sexual minority populations,” has been cited 102 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, and attracted media coverage when it was published, from outlets such as Reuters and U.S. News & World Report.

Continue reading Study that said hate cuts 12 years off gay lives fails to replicate

Caught Our Notice: Oops, wrong species

Title: Virulent Diuraphis noxia Aphids Over-Express Calcium Signaling Proteins to Overcome Defenses of Aphid-Resistant Wheat Plants

What Caught Our Attention: Sadly, it’s not uncommon for researchers to mistake the identity of what they’re working with — but not everyone comes clean and works to transparently correct the record. So it’s nice to see some authors among a group based in the US and India take the initiative to retract their paper after realizing they had based some of their conclusions on the wrong species of aphid. Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Oops, wrong species

“A painful lesson:” Authors retract paper after discovering mislabeled mouse lines

Neuroscientists have retracted a 2016 paper examining the genetic underpinnings of a degenerative motor neuron disease, after discovering that two mouse lines had been accidentally mislabeled.

According to the retraction notice, published in December in Acta Neuropathologica Communications, mice engineered to have a specific genetic mutation were mislabeled as the normal or wild type group.

The notice cites an investigation by the University of Florida; we asked the university for a copy of the report. The university sent us a redacted document, which a spokesperson told us was a self-report from the researchers regarding the mislabeling. The spokesperson explained: Continue reading “A painful lesson:” Authors retract paper after discovering mislabeled mouse lines

Caught Our Notice: Doesn’t anyone do a literature review any more?

Via Wikimedia

Titles: (1) Whole-Genome De Novo Sequencing of the Lignin-Degrading Wood Rot Fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium (ATCC 20696)

(2) Structure revision of aspergicin by the crystal structure of aspergicine, a co-occurring isomer produced by co-culture of two mangrove epiphytic fungi

What Caught Our Attention: Two articles by different groups of authors recently suffered from the same (fatal) flaw: A poor literature review. The article, “Whole-Genome De Novo Sequencing of the Lignin-Degrading Wood Rot Fungus Phanerochaete chrysosporium (ATCC 20696),” claimed to have sequenced a strain already sequenced in 2004 and published in a well-cited article.  According to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, the 2004 article was cited 474 times before the now-retracted article was published. And that 2004 article appeared in a highly-cited journal, Nature Biotechnology. Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Doesn’t anyone do a literature review any more?

Caught Our Notice: Oops — 10-fold error reverses heart warning for Ghanaians

Via Wikimedia

Title: Ghanaians Might Be at Risk of Inadequate Dietary Intake of Potassium

What Caught Our Attention: Potassium-rich diets are thought to be “heart-healthy,” and after examining the average dietary habits of Ghanaian adults, researchers determined the average potassium (K) intake to be well below global standards.  However, the authors’ calculations of potassium intake per capita were too low by factor of 10, resulting in the incorrect conclusion that the average potassium intake was only 856 mg per day, an amount substantially lower than the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation of 3510 mg/day.  The new calculations show an average K intake of 8,560 mg/day, well over the WHO guideline.  

We asked the corresponding author, David Oscar Yawson, about the source of the error, and he responded:

Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Oops — 10-fold error reverses heart warning for Ghanaians

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

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

Caught Our Notice: What if you find out a paper relied on expired herbal supplement?

Via Wikimedia

Title: Exploration of inhibitory mechanisms of curcumin in lung cancer metastasis using a miRNA- transcription factor-target gene network

What Caught Our Attention: The researchers were studying how curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, can inhibit lung cancer metastases. But upon learning that the primary material had been expired at the time of testing (and realizing they were unable to repeat their experiments), the researchers pulled their paper. Expiration dates do have safety factors built in, but attention to such details is imperative in research.  Continue reading Caught Our Notice: What if you find out a paper relied on expired herbal supplement?

Researcher apologizes for ignoring early warnings about earthquake data

In 2016, three researchers published data they had collected on a series of devastating earthquakes that hit Japan earlier that year.

But, in late September 2017, one of the authors—Hiroyuki Goto—revealed that the Kumamoto Earthquake data contained “wide reaching errors”—and an outside expert had warned him the data might be problematic nine months earlier.  

Goto, an associate professor in the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at Kyoto University, issued two statements in which he acknowledged the errors, but did not indicate how they occurred. According to The Japan Times, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is investigating whether the data “was falsified or fabricated due to inconsistencies with other readings taken nearby.” A report in another Japanese paper, The Mainichi, notes that Osaka University—where one of the authors, Yoshiya Hata, works—is looking into the matter as well.

Continue reading Researcher apologizes for ignoring early warnings about earthquake data

Boys will be boys: Data error prompts U-turn on study of sex differences in school

The authors of a 2017 paper on emotional and behavioral gaps between boys and girls have retracted the article after discovering a coding error that completely undermined their conclusions.

The revelation prompted the researchers to republish their findings in the same journal, this time with a title that flips the narrative.

The PsychJournal study, first published in March, looked at self-regulation — loosely defined as the ability to get stuff done and keep a lid on it —  in boys and girls in German elementary schools. Although previous studies had found girls might do better on this front, the authors, from the University of Leipzig and New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus, initially found the opposite:

Continue reading Boys will be boys: Data error prompts U-turn on study of sex differences in school