The authors of a 2009 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) have retracted the paper, which found a particular molecule could make breast tumors respond to a drug to which they’re not normally susceptible.
The paper — which has been cited five times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge — was the subject of a fair amount of press coverage, although the molecule is not yet in clinical trials. In a Reuters story, lead author Caroline Ford said of the alleged tamoxifen-sensitizing compound, Foxy-5:
“It flips the switch basically,” Ford said in a telephone interview. “It makes breast cancer cells respond to tamoxifen in women who cannot be treated with the drug,” she added. “If you don’t have that molecule you can’t get tamoxifen because there is no target.”
Although some readers evidently have yawned at revelations that Vahdettin Bayazit, of Alparslan University in Turkey (and, we are tempted to assume, at least a few of his co-authors) appears to have plagiarized wantonly in numerous published articles, one follower of Retraction Watch was on to this case even before we were.
In an e-mail, the tipster laid out a picture of intellectual dishonesty audacious for both its scope and ham-handedness. The researcher, who wanted to remain anonymous, used Google to detect instances of plagiarism, just as we had, coming up with “more than 10” papers with passages stolen from the scientific literature and even Wikipedia, including not only lifted text but figures, too. And, just as in our case, the editors our source contacted about the misconduct have essentially ignored it.
The Office of Research Integrity has thrown a heavy book at Bengu Sezen, a former chemist at Columbia University, alleging that school and agency investigators turned up 21 instances of research misconduct by the disgraced scientist.
Over the past few weeks, you’d have been forgiven for wondering if the name of this blog should be “Plagiarism Watch” instead of Retraction Watch. Just take a look at all of the recent plagiarism cases:
That last example inspired this poll. When we brought an example of likely plagiarism by the same author to the attention of one journal editor, he was nonplussed. “[A]s all editors know there are rarely absolutely clear cut issues in which the line is unequivocally drawn in the sand,” said the editor-in-chief of Biomaterials, David Williams of Wake Forest. (Williams also suggested that the relative obscurity of the plagiarizers’ institution, and of the journal where they published, meant the case wasn’t worth investigating.)
The Bosnian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences has retracted a paper it published in August by Turkish researchers on the potential cancer risks associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields, or EMFs.
Reason: During the second revision of the manuscript, the authors modified Figure 1 (changing the label from “Israel” to “Historical Palestine”), apparently with the goal of inserting a political statement into a scientific journal article. The authors did not inform the editors or the publisher of this change in their manuscript. As such, the authors have not lived up to the standards of trust and integrity that form the foundation of the peer-review process. The Editors-in-Chief take a very strong view on this matter and, hence, the retraction of the article from publication in Agricultural Water Management.
One of the paper’s authors, Jatinder Ahluwalia, hadn’t signed the retraction, and the notice referred to “Supplementary Information” that hadn’t yet been made available. Today, University College London (UCL) posted that supplementary information, which was the report of a panel that investigated charges of research misconduct against Ahluwalia. That report fills in a lot of details about what preceded the retraction.
If a plagiarist plagiarizes from an author who herself has plagiarized, do we call it a wash and go for a beer?
That scenario is precisely what Steven L. Shafer found himself facing recently. Shafer, editor-in-chief of Anesthesia & Analgesia (A&A), learned that authors of a 2008 case report in his publication had lifted two-and-a-half paragraphs of text from a 2004 paper published in the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia.
A contrite retraction letter, which appears in the December issue of A&A, from the lead author, Sushma Bhatnagar, of New Delhi, India, called the plagiarism “unintended” and apologized for the incident. Straightforward enough.
Peer review isn’t a core subject of this blog. We leave that to the likes of Nature’s Peer-to-Peer, or even the Dilbert Blog. But it seems relevant to look at the peer review process for any clues about how retracted papers are making their way into press.
We’re not here to defend peer review against its many critics. We have the same feelings about it that Churchill did about democracy, aka the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried. Of course, a good number of the retractions we write about are due to misconduct, and it’s not clear how peer review, no matter how good, would detect out-and-out fraud.
Still, peer review is meant as a barrier between low-quality papers and publication, and it often comes up when critics ask questions such as, “How did that paper ever get through peer review?”