Advertisement

More retractions from Nobelist

Two prominent journals have retracted papers by Nobel laureate Linda Buck today because she was "unable to reproduce [the] key findings" of experiments done by her former postdoctoral researcher Zhihua Zou.

By | September 23, 2010

Two prominent journals have retracted papers by Nobel laureate Linda Buck today because she was "unable to reproduce [the] key findings" of experiments done by her former postdoctoral researcher Zhihua Zou, according to a statement made by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC), where Buck worked at the time of the publications.

These retractions, a 2006 Science paper and a 2005 Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences (PNAS) paper, are tied to a 2001 Nature paper that she retracted in 2008, due to the inability "to reproduce the reported findings" and "inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data," according to the retraction. Zou was the first author on all three papers and responsible for conducting the experiments.

The FHCRC is currently conducting an investigation into the issue, said Kristen Woodward, senior media relations manager, but no findings of misconduct have yet been made public. John Dahlberg of the Office of Research Integrity declined to comment on the matter. The paper in PNAS, which has been cited 61 times according to ISI, describes how smells from substances with similar molecular structures elicit "strikingly similar" neuronal patterns in the olfactory cortex of mice brains across individuals, supporting the presence of "olfactory maps" that follow "an underlying logic," according to the paper. The Science paper, cited 73 times, furthers the research and supports that mixed smells, such as chocolate and citrus, activate neurons in the olfactory cortex that chocolate or citrus do not when presented individually, which may explain why these mixtures tend to smell like completely different substances to humans.

Fortunately, the retractions will not have a large impact on the field, Donald Wilson, an olfactory researcher at New York University and Nathan Kline Institute, told The Scientist in an email. "The story of how cortical odor processing occurs doesn't change," he said. "Work in our own lab and others have now also shown the highly distributed, sparse nature of odor processing in the olfactory cortex, and the complex processes involved in dealing with odor mixtures, much as these two now retracted papers showed."

Zou was unavailable for comment, as his current location is unknown, according to FHCRC. After completing his post doctoral research with Buck at FHCRC in 2005, Zou took an assistant professor position at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston. In November of 2008, however, Zou was laid off from the institution, along with 2,400 other UTMB staff members, after Hurricane Ike ripped the university apart that September, according to Raul Reyes, the director of media relations at the UTMB. In 2008, Zou wrote in a statement provided by UTMB that he was "disappointed" by the Nature retraction, and denied any misconduct on his part. While Zou agreed to the Nature retraction, he "declined to sign" the Science retraction, as reported online today in Science. But "we have no information to suspect misconduct," Natasha Pinol, senior communications officer at the AAAS/Science Office of Public Programs, told The Scientist in an email.

In addition to the irreproducible results, the PNAS paper also contained "figures inconsistent with original data," according to the FHCRC statement. While the PNAS retraction is "not embargoed," according to Managing Editor Daniel Salsbury, the journal refused to share any information with The Scientist before deadline, noting that the retraction would appear online after 2:00 p.m. EDT this afternoon. The research that won Buck the 2004 Nobel Prize, which she shared with olfactory researcher Richard Axel of Columbia University "for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system," was unrelated to the research in the retracted papers.

Editor's Note (24th September): The original version of this article stated that no findings of misconduct had been made in the FHCRC's investigation. In fact, there has been no announcement of the investigation's findings one way or the other. The Scientist regrets the error.
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Nobel laureate retracts Nature paper;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54406/
[5th March 2008]*linkurl:Retracted author denies wrongdoing;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/54409/
[6th March 2008]*linkurl:Ups and downs for Nobel Bourse;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22436/
[5th October 2004]

Advertisement

Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

September 23, 2010

I could still recall the excitement back in those days.\nIf all someone wants from science is epic drops and reputation rewards, leave this game NOW.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 3

September 23, 2010

I noticed one thing in common: it is always poor postdoc's fault. Hello! How much should you press the person to make him/her to falsify the results? I would investigate not not only the raw data but also the atmosphere in the lab in order to understand what made the person to lie.
Avatar of: AVITAL SCHURR

AVITAL SCHURR

Posts: 8

September 23, 2010

It would be beneficial for science and its practitioners to be privy to the facts and evidence that drove those involved in the investigations and later the decisions to retract three papers published in High Impact Factor journals to declare that "misconduct is not suspected." Every time a scientist succumbs to the temptation of personal glory and fame, the risk that one would find oneself committing scientific misconduct is elevated significantly. Moreover, for other scientists who were involved with the retracted papers, the damage to their reputation and the reputation of their scientific work is beyond measurement. It is time to recognize that self-policing of scientific research does not work.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 30

September 23, 2010

Something smells kind of funny.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 30

September 23, 2010

Return to Top\ncomment:\nAnother postdoc to blame\nby anonymous poster\n\n[Comment posted 2010-09-23 14:49:52]\n\nI noticed one thing in common: it is always poor postdoc's fault. Hello! How much should you press the person to make him/her to falsify the results? I would investigate not not only the raw data but also the atmosphere in the lab in order to understand what made the person to lie. \n\n_______\n\nThe atmosphere likely bears excess methane, the substance that renders flatulence what it is. Shedding a light on matters via investigation might have explosive results.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 30

September 23, 2010

Champagne corks might have been popping last night in New York and Seattle, home base for the winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, but there were no celebrations for the German team who run the Nobel Prize Bourse, an Internet-based virtual stock market designed to predict prize winners.\n\n\nAround midday on Monday (October 4) in Europe, Richard Axel, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University in New York, and Linda B. Buck, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, were named winners of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their work on olfactory reception.\n\n\nBut Axel and Buck had not been suggested as possible winners by any of the participants of the Nobel Prize Bourse, according to Christoph Kepper, an e-commerce doctoral student at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, who manages technical aspects of the Bourse's Web site.\n\n\nRead more: Ups and downs for Nobel Bourse - The Scientist - Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/22436/#ixzz10OeEbr2z
Avatar of: Nirmal Mishra

Nirmal Mishra

Posts: 22

September 23, 2010

The publication was withdrawn because the earlier results could no be reproduced. This means that either the earlier work had streaks of inconsistency or/and the later work was done more/less carefully. There are cases where earlier work was reproduced but not acknowledged by the later workers. Somewhere, the accountability has to be fixed rather than being vaguely expressive about it and post a veiled reminder.\n\nNirmal Kumar Mishra\nRetd. University Professor of Zoology, Patna University, Patna (India)\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 34

September 23, 2010

Another Fraud, another blame game on Post-doc. My common sense tells that in any case of misconduct, the primary blame should be on PI, post-doc -may be- if found guilty. Also the whole system of getting the post-doc from India or china, is (mis) utilized to pressurize may be? I don't know. But one thing is clear that due to the extreme situation of VISA condition and immigration, the foreign post-doc is just slightly less then bonded labor, reminding me of the older days when Africans were brought to USA and exploited.\n\nWhat does the PI doing? while post-doc (was allegedly) doing misconduct?\n\nScience sucks! If the situation of science is like this in US of A (country based on very high ethical standards)what might be happening in other countries?\n\n\n\n\n
Avatar of: Shi Liu

Shi Liu

Posts: 32

September 23, 2010

In 2008 when Nature retracted one of the Buck papers I posted the following comment which was later hidden by Nature:\n\n------\nDear Shi Liu: \nThe following post you wrote on Nature News has been hidden by the moderator. \nSome thing smells bad here!!! ------ While data manipulation was hinted in the retraction notice but nevertheless is only a speculation, a falsification on the contribution of different authors to this publication is clear beyond any doubt. --- Either Lind Buck was lying then when she stated that "These authors [referring to Zhihua Zou and Lisa F. Horowitz] contributed equally to this work" or lying now when she stated that "Z.Z. prepared and analysed the mice and provided all figures and data for the paper" but "L.F.H. ? prepared gene-targeting constructs to generate the mice" which by no means qualifies an equal contribution as compared with Zou's hard and successful work. --- How could Nature allow this extreme alteration of a public record (a clearly printed author contribution)? Is it unusual or even unethical to publish such detailed author contribution so late and for what? --- Does this scientific world have any truth and justice??? --- Shi V. Liu (http://im1./biz) SVL@logibio.com \nThe moderator gave the following reason for this action: \nWe cannot host a comment stating that "falsification is clear beyond any doubt." \nPlease refrain from posting similar types of comments on Nature News. \n\n------\nNow more papers are retracted from the Buck lab but only that poor Chinese postdoc is blamed for all these bad papers. Do we smell something really noxious from this odor research lab? Fortunately, this time Dr. Zou bravely refused to sign any retractions. What does that mean?
Avatar of: Shi Liu

Shi Liu

Posts: 32

September 23, 2010

To avoid being caught as "self-plagiarism" I should not copy and paste more of my earlier comment posted in 2008 on Nature's news "Nobel prizewinner's paper retracted" (\nhttp://www.nature.com/news/2008/080305/full/452013a.html ). These comments contain the following views: "Sharing the credit and also the condemnation","Retractions should be clearer on what are retracted", and "We need a revolution of scientific publishing in the mainstream journals".
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 13

September 24, 2010

Apart from all the comments on blaming just the postdoc (one only, and the one whò is far and away)I found the comment on "no impact on the field" quite interesting - so does it mean that the papers published in high impact factor journals do not really have much influence on the field? why so? are they about nothing important? or they just repeat previous findings? or someone else repeated the findings and got the same results? don`t really get it...
Avatar of: AVITAL SCHURR

AVITAL SCHURR

Posts: 8

September 24, 2010

It is encouraging to read the comments to this article, if not for any other reason, then for the outrage that many of the commenters feel about the possible misconduct involved in this fiasco and the appearance of making the postdoc a scapegoat. Not so encouraging is the fact that many of the commenters have chosen to stay anonymous due, I guess, for fear of retaliation. The only way for science to clean itself from the spreading of misconduct that degrades its foundations is to provide full protection of whistle blowers, to give-up self-policing that does not work and to employ much more severe penalties for offenders .
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

September 24, 2010

Is it me or are we seeing more papers being retracted? I'm curious to know if there are any stats to show the number of papers retracted in the past 20 years (or more), and who the accusers are? \n\nNot to argue about the reproducibility of the retracted papers from Buck's group, but it's hard not to feel a bit sorry for the postdoc who did much of the work but was the only one blamed in the retraction. Surely, L Buck must have benefited from his Nature and Science papers and probably was able to secure grants and promotions in the past decade. In the end, Buck's career is unaffected, the the postdoc (asst. professor)'s career is over.\n\n
Avatar of: PAUL STEIN

PAUL STEIN

Posts: 61

September 24, 2010

The cited 2001 Nature retraction states, "During efforts to replicate and extend this work, we have been unable to reproduce the reported findings. Moreover, we have found inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data. We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions."\n\nFrankly, I'm tired of seeing this same thing pointed out over and over in The Scientist. It points to a "system" totally out of control, and that "system" is the current state of any standardized controls in academic research. Did the principal investigator have proper oversight then and does she now? How are students and fellows trained? Were the procedures for every single technique standardized to allow for perfect replication? This includes all equipment utilized by all investigators. Were any data lost or placed anywhere that prevented adequate retrieval and comparison? The wording of this and so many previous retractions is oh so vague that the reasoning for this and every other retraction is impossible to determine. It may be that the post-doctoral fellow Zhihua Zou in the system created by Linda Buck did absolutely nothing wrong, leading to his reactions to the retractions.\n\nThe Federal government recognized long ago that some notorious contract research laboratories were not adequately performing research up to standards and enacted the Good Laboratory Practice regulations of the Food and Drug Administration. When complete compliance to these practices is assured, good science is almost guaranteed. In this case of these Nature, PNAS, and Science papers, if competent quality assurance auditing were in place, a process currently unknown to almost every principal investigator, this retraction would be unnecessary because the papers would not have been submitted in their original states.\n\nWhen every institution institutes these Practices, it will become an extremely uncommon event for any retraction to occur. It is high time for the "system" of academic science to change to a standard of known quality. The public's confidence in the institution of academic science hinges in the balance.

September 24, 2010

The essence of doing science is in seeking truth not in seeking fame nor rewards/awards. The so many retractions of biomedical-related papers,including those by Noble Laureates (the field where Noble Prizes are normally granted ) is a clear indication that there is something seriously wrong in evaluating such published findings that may lead to a Noble Prize. Noble Prize Committee members need to revaluate their rules of defining prize-deserved research regardless of famous research labs and institutions, top scientists, and high impact journals. One element is obvious in revaluating such rules, that is, dont rush in nominations,and granting the prize for seemingly immature science published in short time. WAITE AND SEE!!.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 15

September 26, 2010

I find the comment that the 1991 Nature had no bearing on the Nobel a bit surprising. Let's be honest, much of the work fitted the preconceptions of the PI and was not therefore carefully examined/checked. It is the mark of a good scientist to doubt their own results. Therefore Buck is not blameless in this but the Nobel teflon coating she has gained seems to be very good.\n\n
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 11

September 27, 2010

It appears that the part of the problem with retractions of research articles or difficulties in reproducing the experimental data independently is related to how science is being done and funded. As a researcher you will not have the time before your next grant application renewal to repeat the experiments several times to verify the reproducibility. Apart from that the biological system is highly complex and highly diverse which makes some experiments difficult to reproduce. Of course Nobel laureates and established investigators can depend on their reputations but for others it will always be high pressure.

Follow The Scientist

icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-twitter icon-vimeo icon-youtube
Advertisement

Stay Connected with The Scientist

  • icon-facebook The Scientist Magazine
  • icon-facebook The Scientist Careers
  • icon-facebook Neuroscience Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Genetic Research Techniques
  • icon-facebook Cell Culture Techniques
  • icon-facebook Microbiology and Immunology
  • icon-facebook Cancer Research and Technology
  • icon-facebook Stem Cell and Regenerative Science
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist
Advertisement
The Scientist
The Scientist