Misconduct Ruling for Old Retractions

Zhihua Zou, formerly of Nobel Laureate Linda Buck’s lab, engaged in research misconduct that resulted in the retraction of two highly cited papers.

By | July 31, 2014

WIKIMEDIA, BRIAN TURNERIn March 2008, olfactory researcher Linda Buck retracted a 2001 Nature paper after failing to reproduce the results and noticing “inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data,” according to the retraction notice. Two–and-a-half years later, Buck’s group retracted two more papers, one published in PNAS in 2005, the other published in Science in 2006. Now, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) published its final action on the case, finding that Zhihua Zou—a former postdoc in Buck’s lab at Harvard Medical School and staff scientist in her lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as well as the lead author on all three papers—was guilty of research misconduct. The ORI’s ruling applies only to the Nature and PNAS papers, according to the notice published yesterday (July 30) in the Federal Register.

Both papers—cited 168 and 71 times, respectively, according to ISI—supported the presence of olfactory maps in mice—smells from molecules with similar structures elicited similar patterns of neuronal activity in the olfactory cortex. (The Science paper, cited 95 times, added to the work, suggesting that mixed smells activate different neurons than smells presented individually.)

Although Zou denied any wrongdoing at the time, the ORI has found that he falsified several figures in the Nature paper and one figure in the PNAS paper “by manipulating the images to alter the number and location of positively stained cells in the olfactory bulb and olfactory cortex of mice,” according to the Federal Register notice. As a result of the ORI findings, Zou has agreed to have any research funded by the Public Health Service supervised and to exclude himself from any advisory roles for three years.

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