Retracting duplicated paper “may damage the integrity of the literature,” says plant journal editor

In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology - PlantIn Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology – Plant has flagged a 2004 article that was “accidentally” duplicated from another paper published earlier that year — but did so in the form of a publisher’s erratum, not a retraction.

The editor of the journal justified the decision by arguing that the duplicated paper had been cited “over a dozen times” and was old enough to not warrant a retraction:

Considering that both articles were published over a decade ago and both have been referenced by other papers over a dozen times each, it seems like a retraction of one manuscript may damage the integrity of the literature more than using the erratum to point out the error to future scientists.

The study, “In vitro shoot regeneration from cotyledonary node explants of a multipurpose leguminous tree, Pterocarpus marsupium roxb,” developed a protocol for effectively growing shoots of the Indian Kino tree.

The first version has been cited 21 times and the duplicated version was cited 13 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge. Here’s the notice:

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What do you do after painful retractions? Q&A with Pamela Ronald and Benjamin Schwessinger

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Pamela Ronald and Benjamin Schwessinger, wearing the shirts of a swim competition they entered

2013 was a rough year for biologist Pamela Ronald. After discovering the protein that appears to trigger rice’s immune system to fend off a common bacterial disease – suggesting a new way to engineer disease-resistant crops – she and her team had to retract two papers in 2013 after they were unable to replicate their findings. The culprits: a mislabeled bacterial strain and a highly variable assay. However, the care and transparency she exhibited earned her a “doing the right thing” nod from us at the time.

After many months spent understanding what went wrong and redoing the experiments correctly, today Ronald and her team release another paper in Science Advances that reveals the protein they thought they had identified in 2013.

Ronald and co-first author Benjamin Schwessinger (who recently became an independent research fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra) spoke to us about the experience of recovering from the retractions and finally getting it right. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

-What did you do differently this time so you didn’t repeat the same mistakes?

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2005 PNAS Arabidopsis cold sensitivity gene paper retracted

There’s a retraction this week from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of a paper that first appeared online on July 1, 2005 (and which is still available, but notes under “this article” that “a retraction has been published”). The paper reports on a study that allegedly found a gene that made Arabidopsis plants — a favorite model of molecular biologists — “extremely sensitive to freezing temperatures, completely unable to acclimate to the cold,” and very sensitive to salt.

In other words, the Arabidopsis version of our relatives in Florida.

From the retraction:
Continue reading 2005 PNAS Arabidopsis cold sensitivity gene paper retracted