Posts Tagged ‘retractions’

More stem cell fakery as a quick way to publication and fame?

March 11, 2014

Dr Haruko Obokata shot to fame with her stem cell papers photo BBC

Another young researcher, Dr Haruko Obokata has apparently made sensational claims about her stem cell research, shot to fame as lead author in two papers published in Nature and is now in the dock for dodgy images and irreproducible results (perhaps faked).

WSJ: Her co-author, Teruhiko Wakayama of Yamanashi University in Japan, called Monday for the retraction of the findings, published in late January in a pair of papers in the journal Nature.

The papers drew international attention because they held out a safer, easier and more ethical technique for creating master stem cells. These cells, which can be turned into all other body tissues, promise one day to transform the treatment of various ailments, from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. 

But shortly after the papers appeared, Japan’s Riken Center for Developmental Biology, where the work took place, began to investigate alleged irregularities in images used in the papers. Separately, many labs said they couldn’t replicate the results.

A spokesman for Riken said Tuesday that the institution was considering a retraction and that the article’s authors were discussing what to do.

Dr. Wakayama said he has asked the lead author, Haruko Obokata, to retract the studies. “There is no more credibility when there are such crucial mistakes,” he said in an email to The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Wakayama said he learned Sunday that an image used in Dr. Obokata’s 2011 doctoral thesis had also been used in the Nature papers. “It’s unlikely that it was a careless mistake since it’s from a different experiment from a different time,” he said.

Like several other researchers, Dr. Wakayama said he hasn’t yet been able to reproduce the results. “There is no value in it if the technique cannot be replicated,” he said. 

But another co-author of the papers, Charles Vacanti, a tissue engineer at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, defended the work. “Some mistakes were made, but they don’t affect the conclusions,” he said in an interview Monday. “Based on the information I have, I see no reason why these papers should be retracted.”

Dr. Vacanti—whose early work some 15 years ago spurred the novel experiments—said he was surprised to hear that one of his co-authors asked for the retraction.

Dr. Vacanti said he had spoken to Dr. Obokata on Monday and that she also stood by the research. “It would be very sad to have such an important paper retracted as a result of peer pressure, when indeed the data and conclusions are honest and valid,” said Dr. Vacanti. …..

The papers created a stir because they reported a process by which mouse cells could be returned to an embryonic-like state simply by dipping them in a mild acid solution, creating what they called STAP cells, for stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency. ….

There seems to be a hint of some “academic rivalry” here as well.

Retraction Watch has more:

Nature told the WSJ that it was still investigating the matter. As Nature‘s news section reported last month, lead author

…biologist Haruko Obokata, who is based at the institution…shot to fame as the lead author of two papers12 published in Nature last month that demonstrated a way to reprogram mature mouse cells into an embryonic state by simply applying stress, such as exposure to acid conditions or physical pressure on cell membranes.

But the studies, published online on January 29, soon came under fire. Paul Knoepfler has had a number of detailed posts on the matter, as hasPubPeer.

Stem cell research seems to have more than its fair share of dodgy papers – presumably because sensational results are easier to come by and very much easier to get published.

Multiple investigations of multiple allegations of image manipulation at University of New South Wales

October 22, 2013

A supposedly game changing skin cancer drug, a number of retractions of papers, drug trials suspended, allegations of image manipulation, allegations of misconduct from other noted scientists and at least 3 different investigations by his Univesrity, surround Professor Levon Khachigian of the School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

At least 6 papers are involved (of which 4 have already been retracted). The University is facing criticism for the pace of their investigations and there are some suggestions that commercial interests may be involved.

ABC News reports:

Research overseen by an eminent scientist at the University of New South Wales is again under investigation following concerns about alleged research misconduct.

The latest allegations centre on a scientific paper into the genetics of heart disease co-authored by Professor Levon Khachigian.

A research team overseen by Professor Khachigian has received many grants from bodies such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, including an $8.3 million grant for 2014 looking at cardiovascular disease research.

The research in question was published in the journal PLOS One in July 2012.

It focused on how muscle cells change into plaque – a key cause of heart attacks.

A scientist complained to the university, saying he believed one of the images appeared to have been manipulated. A letter sent to the university’s vice chancellor of research says “in figure 5, one of the panels has been duplicated, rotated 180 degrees and then used to represent cells treated with a different compound.”

“If anomalies are found, it will be necessary to (conduct interviews) individually to determine who was responsible and whether they were deliberate or accidental,” it says.

The university has conducted an initial investigation and the ABC understands it believes there is a prima facie case of research misconduct.

Professor Khachigian was in the news earlier this year about image manipulation and the suspension of the skin cancer drug DZ13.

ABC News (August 2013):

Clinical trials of an experimental cancer drug have been suspended after serious questions have been raised about the accuracy of some of the scientific data behind it.

The ABC has learnt that the University of New South Wales (UNSW) is investigating a number of allegations concerning the science and data underpinning the DZ13 compound.

DZ13 was developed by an Australian team of researchers led by Professor Levon Khachigian and heralded as a super drug in the fight against skin cancer.

Two investigations conducted at the UNSW into allegations against Professor Khachigian and his team found that there was no evidence of research misconduct.

But the current investigation was prompted by further concerns raised separately by an eminent Australian scientist and one of the former researchers on DZ13.

Both are concerned that images in a paper on DZ13, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2010, may not be genuine. ……

….. Professor David Vaux is an internationally acclaimed cell scientist at Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and lectures worldwide on research ethics.

“I think that anybody who has concerns of scientific misconduct, there’s an ethical responsibility for them to raise those concerns with either the designated person to receive allegations of misconduct or with the journal editors or with the authors of the paper,” he said.

In late 2009, he came across images in three papers from Professor Khachigian’s lab relating to genetic research in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that he was concerned were inappropriately duplicated. 

He wrote twice to the journal about his concerns that the images were not genuine.

In July 2010, the three papers were retracted by the authors, who said that the presentation of the images was a genuine error.

In February this year, Professor Vaux came across another paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that he said raised similar concerns of image duplication. This paper was focusing on DZ13.

Professor Vaux says this time there was more urgency, as the paper gave support to DZ13, which was about to be administered to patients in clinical trials.

He wrote to the vice-president and deputy vice-chancellor (research) at the University of New South Wales, Professor Les Field, asking for him to carry out an investigation.

I wish to alert you to concerns I have over a possible case of research misconduct at the UNSW. In the paper attached I have annotated the images that I am concerned about…

They appear to contain duplications and/or alterations of images in such a way that the same data is used to represent two different conditions.

Professor Vaux also contacted the National Health and Medical Research Council in June.

I believe it would be important to act quickly, as patients may currently be receiving the agent described in the publication, DZ13, as part of a clinical trial.

If the results in this paper are not genuine, the Human Research Ethics Committee that approved the trial might have been misled, and the patients receiving the drug might not have been able to give properly informed consent.

A retraction can achieve more publicity than the original paper

July 30, 2013

A jaundiced view of retractions and questions of a cynical kind:

  1. Could an article or paper be deliberately written so as to be retracted later for the ensuing publicity?
  2. Can a deliberate retraction be managed so as to generate credit for the journal or the author who requests the retraction?
  3. And is it not “perfectly correct” to cite a retracted paper in a subsequent paper as a  “publication (retracted)”?

A retraction – if sufficiently “interesting” – can get more publicity than the original paper. It may be a cliche but it is nonetheless true  that there is no such thing as bad publicity. And if the retraction is at the “request of the authors” the author may actually demonstrate and even build a reputation for integrity!

This story at Retraction Watch of an article pulled by Slate raises my suspicions that just publicity was actually the objective.


Slate has retracted an essay they published as part of a partnership with Quora, an online question-and-answer site, after acknowledging that they “did not vet the piece properly.”

The piece garnered hundreds of comments, many of which questioned whether its claims were legit, and some of which pointed out that the author may have posted questionable material on the web before.

This now appears where the article, originally published at 5:01 p.m. on Thursday, July 25, originally did:

Editor’s note: On July 25, Slate published in this space an essay from its partner site Quora titled “Are Doctors Biased Against Obese People?” Because the piece did not meet our editorial standards, we have taken it down.

On Friday at 6:09 p.m., brandchannel started a post about the article with a quote from the piece:

When I was pregnant, one OB called me disgusting and told me to have an abortion.

brandchannel doesn’t mention the retraction, which Slate tells us happened Friday night, just over 24 hours after it as originally posted. But brandchannel anticipated that move, including the entire Slate-Quora piece saved for posterity, …..

I note also from Professor Debora Weber-Wulff’s blog that retracted papers still show up being cited – as retractions – in other papers. The paper is in PLoS and is supposedly a peer-reviewed online publication.

36. Rathinam C, Klein C (2012) Retraction: transcriptional repressor gfi1 integrates cytokine-receptor signals controlling B-cell differentiation. PLoS One 7.

Retraction? Are they citing the retraction of the article as a reference for what had been stated in the article retracted? 

Retracted papers are also being included in CV’s! I suppose that the paper was accepted for publication – even if later retracted – is some kind of an achievement!

It reminds me of the old story where CV’s in India would regularly include something like

“BA, 1943, University of Aligarh (fail)”.

This was considered – socially and academically – acceptable as proof that the author had at least done the course and had appeared for the examination!

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