How To Read A Retraction II

Nov 21 2008 Published by under Ethics

Here's an interesting retraction just published in the Journal of Neuroscience:

Retraction for Ma et al., Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 Stimulates Hypothalamic Proopiomelanocortin Neurons
Retraction: At the request of the authors, the following manuscript has been retracted: "Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 Stimulates Hypothalamic Proopiomelanocortin Neurons" by Xiaosong Ma, Jens Bruning, and Frances M. Ashcroft, which appeared on pages 7125-7129 of the July 4, 2007 issue.

This is it, the entire text of the retraction. There is absolutely no mention of why the paper is being retracted. People who have relied on the retracted manuscript to develop their own research conceptually and/or methodologically have been given no guidance whatsoever on what aspects of the manuscript are considered unreliable, and/or why.
Is this ethical behavior? Do the authors have an obligation to the scientific community to come clean with everything they know about the whats and whys of their retraction?
Please discuss.

23 responses so far

  • neurolover says:

    "Do the authors have an obligation to the scientific community to come clean with everything they know about the whats and whys of their retraction?"
    yes, and the journals have such an obligation, as well.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    CPP,
    Do not expect the SFN to elaborate on any unethical issue. My personal experience dealing with this society regarding misconduct of their members taught me that, similar to my university administration, they'll do everything necessary to wash their hands of any liability or responsibility in regard to such misconduct (I'm sure you read my book and remember the chapters dealing with their behavior when I filed a complaint against a member's unethical conduct).

  • bioephemera says:

    Wow, that's. . . odd. Definitely has to be a story there.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    actually, BioE!, that is reasonably typical. From my perspective we're in kind of a Wild West phase of retractions. There's a bit more aggression on actually issuing retractions but the methods and follow through are highly variable.
    Blog discussions are welcome to help to shape what should be the overwhelming standard of practice down the road.
    What I tend to assume is that journals are motivated to retract the bad papers but get caught up in publishing anything which suggests that someone engaged in misconduct. Obviously, authors are motivated to minimize any blame as well. Local investigations of misconduct can take years. Therefore if the journals waited for full resolution of an investigation the retraction would come out 8 years later. Bad for science.
    It is the compromise position to retract the paper without any whiff of who was to blame. Not ideal, I agree.

  • They obviously are convinced that some aspects of the published experiments are no good. They can reveal what aspects they are convinced are no good without taking any position on blame.
    For example: "We are no longer confident that the data presented in Figure 3 are reliable." This is completely agnostic as to whether Josephine Bloggs used Photoshop to splice a bunch of random bands into a single gel lane, or whether she grabbed a bottle of buffer that was labeled "40 mM NaCl", but was actually "100 mM NaCl".

  • Rainee says:

    Could it be that they have realized there has been a mistake but are not entirely sure of the extent or the implication.
    I am curious - Are there formal guidelines a journal provides to authors to deal with this type of situation?

  • heh says:

    What kind of retraction is that? "Oops, my bad."

  • Becca says:

    I think this is code for "our stock of Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 was contaminated with orange juice. oops."

  • S. Rivlin says:

    If a simple, honest mistake is the reason for the retraction, then, there should be no problem for the journal to explain it, though one should wonder how the review process of the manuscript did not uncover it. The fact that no explanation was provided for the retraction indicates a possibility of misconduct.

  • zowie! says:

    dood, everything indicates misconduct in you estimation!!!!!!

  • becca says:

    Back in my day, we walked to lab, uphill, both ways, in the snow... and we were honest about it!

  • If a simple, honest mistake is the reason for the retraction, then, there should be no problem for the journal to explain it...

    **cough** Bullshit **cough**

    ...though one should wonder how the review process of the manuscript did not uncover it. The fact that no explanation was provided for the retraction indicates a possibility of misconduct.

    PhysioProf gives a perfectly plausible mistake that could occur (his NaCl example) but would never have been picked up in review and is not necessarily intentional misconduct. In an ideal world, would the authors disclose such shennanigans? Sure, but does anyone want "the person who performed the experiment couldn't calculate molarity" in permanent print?

  • Maybe they were relying on my darling BlogFodder, the Tech Who Couldn't Count. (Yesterday he ordered more antibody. We cannot possibly be out of antibody, because I know how much we started with and how much he should have been using.....)

  • Thomas says:

    If I had done a mistake and had to retract an article I'd certainly prefer to look stupid by admitting a mistake than make it look like there might be fraud involved by not saying anything about the reason for the retraction.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Zowie,
    I once also believed that scientists are all truthfull and pure. Wake up! The percentage of scum among us is not different from that of the genneral population.
    As to the Journal of Neuroscience, being the high impact journal that it is, the SFN "cannot afford" to admit imperfection where its reviewing and publication processes are involved. I have dealt with the administration of the SFN and know first hand how they run away from any hint of wrong-doing on theirs or their members' part. Money is the only issue that concerns them. Their mantra is "anything that would either increase expenses running an honest operation (legal fees) or that could affect negatively the profitability of the journal must be avoided."

  • David Marjanović says:

    I'm with comment 14.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Soon the J. Neurosci. will stop printing retractions too due to limited space.

  • Sol, you don't know jack diddly fucking shit about the internal decision-making processes at the Journal of Neuroscience. All you know is what your fevered bitter angry delusional asshole imagination feeds you.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    On the other hand, you, of course, know everything. If I did not know better, I could think that you are the next in line to run the NIH, after you finish your stint as the President of the SFN.
    Relax man, you make me feel sorry for you for all the stress you have to go through because of me.

  • Lou says:

    CPP and Sol, you two so love each other, don't you?
    It's like watching couples argue! 😀

  • WiseWoman says:

    The full text of the article is available free online: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/27/27/7125
    The retraction - meager that it is - costs 15$ to view: http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/28/47/np-a
    I did a search on eTBlast to see if it was perhaps a plagiarism: http://invention.swmed.edu/etblast/user/user-1227738802/results.html but none that I can see. But the text is Greek to me.

  • Pinko Punko says:

    Jesus Criminy, Comrade PP,
    Take the screwdriver out of the bunghole, if I may be impolite. Just blog comments. Just let people work it out. You asked people to discuss and then they did. And then that was bad. It's so confusing.
    That being said, I don't know if S's experience is n=1 and if any of the people he dealt with are even the same, and each case needs to be argued on the merits and not all things extrapolated from one clusterfuck. I haven't read the book, but I've been around. Everything sucks, we die, then worm food. Not pleasant or desired.
    Fight the fight if it let's you sleep at night. Don't let the assholes get you down.

  • S. Rivlin says:

    Pinko Punko,
    The N is >1 and in the majority of them the big wigs were involved. The experience of others is similar. You see, once you find yourself involved in dealing with those assholes, you also find yourself being a part of a network of those who have similar dealings with similar assholes.
    I dealt with two SFN Presidents; I dealt with the Executive Director of the SFN at the time. The President of the SFN is just a figure head with no real political power (how much power can you get in one year of service?). The interests of the society management have nothing to do with science. It is just another big business that deals with millions of dollars budget, is in the black big time and will do everything necessary to avoid any incident that could push it toward the red. To think that things are different is very naive. I joined the SFN 30 years ago, when the membership was approximately 5,000. Then it was a medium size society with its focus on neuroscience and neuroscientists. Today it is the largest neuroscience society in the world with over 30,000 members, a profitable journal, their own huge building in Washington, DC, with huge annual meeting that makes money (and unrealistically high registration fee for participants and an outrageous fee for exhibitors, many of which quit showing at the meeting because they could not afford it). A big operation such as this cannot afford a little shmock like myself expose wrongdoing that could, according to their philosophy, affect the bottom line. And I am sure you know that this is the practice in all big corporations and organizations. Very seldom the little guy comes out on top and these are the only ones you hear about. You will never know about the thousands who were and are being silenced.

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