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 According to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, the 2004 article was cited 474 times before the now-retracted article was published.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?
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:
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. Szostak—a 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
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?
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.
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:
A high profile paper published in 2012 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) set out to answer that question — and found that yes, the more money people have, the more likely they are to lie, cheat, and steal. And the greedier they are, the worse they behave. But when a more recent paper tried to replicate some of those findings, it couldn’t.
It turns out, both the original paper and the paper that tried to replicate it contained errors. Although neither appear to affect the main conclusions, the authors of the 2016 replication recently issued a correction; the error in the 2012 paper was initially deemed too insignificant to correct, but the journal has decided to revisit the idea of issuing a correction.
A representative of PNAS told us that the replication paper — and reporting by Retraction Watch — is the reason why: Continue reading Are rich people meaner? While trying to find out, two teams find errors in each other’s work
The paper, published in the Journal of Thermophysics and Heat Transfer, explored how the properties of nanofluids—fluids that contain nanoparticles—change as the fluid moves through different materials.
According to the editor-in-chief, Greg Naterer, an outside expert—Asterios Pantokratoras, based at Democritus University of Thrace in Greece—contacted the journal in May 2017 after discovering “errors with symbols in equations and figures.” The journal investigated the concerns and reached out to the paper’s corresponding author V. Ramachandra Prasad at Madanapalle Institute of Technology and Science in India for a response; after several rounds of comments from Pantokratoras and Prasad, the journal concluded that the paper should be retracted.
According to the retraction notice, the authors believe the contamination affects the main conclusion of their paper. Continue reading Authors retract plant biology paper after they realized sample was contaminated
Earlier this week, we reported that high-profile food researcher Brian Wansink — who’s faced months of criticisms about his research — had issued his second retraction. On Thursday, he issued his third.
The retracted paper — a 2012 research letter in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, now JAMA Pediatrics — reported that children were more likely to choose an apple over a cookie if the apple included an Elmo sticker. The same day the paper was retracted, Wansink and his co-authors published a replacement version that includes multiple changes, including to the methodology and the results.
The retraction notice lists the mistakes, which the authors say they made “inadvertently:”