Retraction Remorse

The journal that published and abruptly retracted the first study linking the lab-made virus XMRV to disease apologizes to the authors.

By | October 3, 2012

Wikimedia Commons, Center for Disease Control and PreventionThe editors of PLOS Pathogens wish to atone for not warning all corresponding authors that they were retracting the 2006 study that first reported a link between a lab-made virus called XMRV and prostate cancer, according to a PLOS blog post by the editor-in-chief Kasturi Haldar last week (September 28).

“We have apologized for not contacting the second corresponding author,” Haldar wrote in the post. “Our expectation was that the first would discharge responsibilities to all remaining authors. We have since corresponded with all authors.”

Though the journal editors contacted the first corresponding author of the seminal 2006 XMRV paper, Joseph DeRisi of the University of California, San Francisco, he was unresponsive to their email messages, and they did not contact the second author, Robert Silverman of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Silverman told ScienceInsider that he was “completely blindsided” by the retraction and said that he had been preparing an erratum he felt was sufficient to address the incorrect link between XMRV and prostate cancer.

“The discovery of XMRV, a new virus, still stands,” Silverman told ScienceNOW after the retraction occurred on September 18“Why retract results that are valid?”

Despite the regretted communication breakdown, Haldar defended the decision to retract the paper, writing that “six senior PLOS Pathogens editors unanimously agreed” that they should retract the paper based on new evidence that the central finding—that XMRV is linked to prostate cancer—is incorrect. Indeed, Silverman co-authored a paper, published in PLOS ONE the same day as the retraction, that meticulously retraced the errors of the 2006 paper that led to accidental contamination of cell cultures with XMRV.

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