In 2014, a journal contacted researcher Denis Rousseau about one of his papers that had just been published online ahead of print, raising some concerns. According to Rousseau, he sent the journal a corrected figure “almost immediately,” which he believed addressed the issue.
Rousseau, a cell biologist at the University Joseph Fourier in Grenoble, France, said he then contacted the journal many times over the next three years to ask about the status of the paper — which never ended up in print — but heard nothing back.
Three years passed.
In March, the publisher finally contacted Rousseau, this time to ask him to issue a formal retraction for the paper. And despite his objections, Molecular and Cellular Biology published a sparse retraction notice, which provides little information about what went wrong:
After a publisher learned there may be issues with a 2008 diabetes paper, it asked the author’s university to investigate. The university found evidence of image duplication, and asked the journal to consider correcting the paper.
Instead, the journal has retracted it.
The backstory involves diabetes researcher Kathrin Maedler, who has one previous retraction, as well as multiple corrections. Even the paper in question, published in Diabetes, received an erratum in 2014 regarding a duplicated image, as well as an expression of concern last August after the American Diabetes Association questioned “the reliability of the data” in both the article and erratum.
To resolve the issues, the university’s rector recommended that the authors publish a second erratum with corrected figures. But after conducting its own review, the ADA overruled the university, opting instead to retract the paper:
A prominent diabetes researcher based at Harvard Medical School has retracted a third paper, citing manipulation of multiple figures.
Late last year, Carl Ronald Kahn—also chief academic officer at Joslin Diabetes Center—retracted two papers for similar reasons. In November, Kahn pulled a 2005 paper from The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) and a month later, he retracted a 2003 paper from The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), both times citing duplications that the authors said were introduced while assembling the figures.
Last month, Kahn retracted his third paper, also published in JBC in 2003, because the authors omitted data when constructing the images. Still, the authors remain confident in their findings, given that data from other labs “have confirmed and extended the conclusions of the manuscript.”
After being accused of falsifying three figures in a submitted manuscript, Mauvais-Jarvis sued his accusers and officials at his former employer — Northwestern University — for defamation and conspiracy in 2011.
In 2014, a judge dismissed the suit. We wish we could tell you more details about it—such as what the university’s misconduct investigation found, or how the lawsuit was concluded—but they remain shrouded in mystery. What we know is based on court records from the lawsuit, which we recently obtained through an unrelated public records request. Even without all the details, it’s a long, sordid tale, involving a lot of finger-pointing and allegations of misconduct.
In 2008, a former research technician in the lab of Mauvais-Jarvis, then an associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University, raised concerns of fabrication in two figures in a paper on the regulation of insulin synthesis that had been submitted the Journal of Biological Chemistry. An inquiry committee at the university unanimously concluded that research misconduct charges against Mauvais-Jarvis were not credible.
It would seem that resorting to legal means to avoid editorial notices doesn’t always work.
We’re coming to that conclusion after seeing yet another notice for Mario Saad, based at the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil. In this case, it’s an expression of concern from the Journal of Endocrinology, on a 2005 paper that lists Saad as the second-to-last author. According to the notice, the journal is concerned the paper contains spliced and duplicated images; although the authors offered to repeat the experiments, the journal considered that potential delay “unacceptable.”
Researchers at Columbia University have retracted a 2013 paper in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, after uncovering abnormalities in the stem cell lines that undermined the conclusions in the paper.
Last year, corresponding author Dieter Egli discovered he could not reproduce key data in the 2013 paper because almost all the cell lines first author Haiqing Hua used contained abnormalities, casting doubt on the overall findings. When Egli reached out to Hua for answers, Hua could not explain the abnormalities. As a result, Hua and Egli agreed the paper should be retracted.
Since some of the details of how the paper ended up relying on abnormal cells remain unclear, the university confirmed to us that it is investigating the matter.
A department chair of a Swedish university asked to retract a 2010 study in Diabetes after none of the authors could explain image-related ambiguities.
The matter prompted particular attention because the paper’s first author, Pontus Almer Boström, had been found guilty of scientific misconduct by the University of Gothenburg in 2012, after Jan Borén noted some irregularities in data calculated by Boström. At that point, the research group combed the data to identify further issues arising from Boström’s work, and didn’t find any.
But last summer, when a user on PubPeer raised questions about some of the images in the 2010 paper, the matter was brought back into focus. According to Borén, they found “no evidence of scientific misconduct in this study.” But Boström had left the university in 2009 and could not be reached, the corresponding author had passed away, and the remaining co-authors hadn’t stayed in the field. So Borén decided it would be best to retract the study to avoid any “lingering questions.”
The notices keep coming for diabetes researcher Mario Saad.
Diabetes has just retracted two more of his papers, both of which had been flagged by expressions of concern, citing problems with duplications. What’s more, the journal added another expression of concern to a 2009 paper on which Saad — based at the University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil — is listed as last author, again over concerns of duplication.
The latest articles flagged by Diabetes appear to be part of an intricate publishing web, as the journal suggests all papers have used features of previous papers, and also include elements that have been republished by subsequent articles.
The former president of the Joslin Diabetes Center has withdrawn a second article within a month of his first, and issued extensive corrections to another paper in the same journal, all due to figure errors.
In November, we reported that Carl Ronald Kahn — also affiliated with Harvard Medical School — had pulled a highly cited 2005 paper from The Journal of Clinical Investigation because of image duplication issues, which Kahn told us were introduced during figure assembly. This December, Kahn retracted a 2003 paper published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC)—again due to duplication issues that the authors believe “were inadvertently introduced during figure assembly.”
2013 probably felt like it was going to be a great year for stem cell biologist Douglas Melton at Harvard. He had published a buzz-worthy paper in Cell about a new way to potentially boost insulin in diabetics, attracting significant media attention, and eventually gathering nearly 200 citations.
But 2016 is closing out on a less positive tone for Melton — today, he and his colleagues are retracting the paper, after multiple labs (including his own) couldn’t reproduce the findings.