Widespread Data Duplication

Around one out of every four cancer papers scrutinized in a recent study contains questionable figures, and journals and authors aren’t responding to requests for clarification.

By | June 17, 2015

WIKIMEDIA, MAGNUS MANSKE

Of a sampling of 120 papers from three cancer-related journals, around 25 percent contained what appeared to be duplicated images, according to an analysis from Oslo University Hospital’s Morten Oksvold. At least half of these images were duplicates from different experiments, and the most common problem was the duplication of loading controls in Western blots.

Oksvold contacted both the authors of the papers in question and the respective journal editors in October 2014, yet by May 2015, “no editorial replies have been received so far,” he wrote in his report, published in Science and Engineering Ethics last week (June 12).

“This is just indefensible,” according to Discover’s Neuroskeptic. “Oksvold’s allegations deserve to be taken seriously.”

Oksvold had collected 40 papers continuously as they were published in the three journals—reportedly, Cancer Cell, International Journal of Oncology, and Oncogene—beginning in late 2013. All suspicions of duplication were sent to a second scientist for confirmation, he noted.

This February, Oksvold posted his observations to the post-publication peer review site PubPeer, and two authors responded over the course of a month. Both explained that the mistakes were honest errors.                                                                              

Oksvold pointed out in his paper that it’s impossible to tell from his analysis whether any of the duplications were due to accidental slip-ups, sloppiness, or intentional misconduct. Some commenters on PubPeer also stated that some duplications could be appropriate. “It is absolutely OK to show the same data on a different page in a larger context, for readability reasons or simply to make a related argument,” wrote one anonymous poster. Yet, without replies from authors or editors, the cases go unresolved.

“There is an obvious need for reforms in the peer reviewing and erratum/retraction system,” Oksvold wrote in his paper. “If no action is taken it seems clear that over time, the public confidence in science and research could entirely erode away.” 

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Avatar of: dumbdumb

dumbdumb

Posts: 81

June 18, 2015

It is ironic. Once I got a paper rejected because I allegedly reused a figure from a previous paper. Indeed, it was a figure with an enlarged number of samples that was very similar to the previous one (btw, meant to be a prologue), simply because, for once the data were reproducible

June 18, 2015

I think the American public by-and-large has no respect for (let alone confidence in) science to begin with, so Oksvold's comment at the enc of this article is, alas, oxymoronic.  

What's worse is that even I, a retired scientist married to a sort-of-retired scientist, am gradually acquiring a lack of respect for American science and for most of the people who carry out that science.  But at least my reasons are different from those of the general American public. I actually understand science and very much appreciate the value of good science; I just don't think the American scientific community active today is up to snuff, at least in the areas in which I used to be involved.  

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 125

June 18, 2015

The preceding remarks both are reasonable and I accept both at face value. I do not represent such abuses as those described in the article as being typical practice, but they certainly are far too frequent to be tolerable in science.

Honesty and competence in science are not just of huge material importance to the community, but matters of great concern to those of us who commit themselves personally, intellectually and professionally to the one field of human endeavour that is most purely dedicated to truth and logic. Dishonesty in pursuit of credit for work that in fact is futilely incompetent in science should be as open to legal and material professional sanctions as in medicine or engineering. And some abuses in those fields also should be far more strictly policed than in practice they are.

Some habitual offenders explode with indignation at any such suggestion; it seems that it is beneath their dignity to be policed, but personally I hardly feel my dignity so much as squirming at the thought. By way of analogy, as a non-perpetrater of say, child abuse, I find myself blithely in favour of laws against such practices; it is the actual offenders who disapprove most loudly.

Avatar of: JonRichfield

JonRichfield

Posts: 125

June 18, 2015

The preceding remarks both are reasonable and I accept both at face value. I do not represent such abuses as those described in the article as being typical practice, but they certainly are far too frequent to be tolerable in science. (And by the way, I do not single out American science in saying so!)

Honesty and competence in science are not just of huge material importance to the community, but matters of great concern to those of us who commit themselves personally, intellectually and professionally to the one field of human endeavour that is most purely dedicated to truth and logic. Dishonesty in pursuit of credit for work that in fact is futilely incompetent in science should be as open to legal and material professional sanctions as in medicine or engineering. And some abuses in those fields also should be far more strictly policed than in practice they are.

Some habitual offenders explode with indignation at any such suggestion; it seems that it is beneath their dignity to be policed, but personally I hardly feel my dignity so much as squirming at the thought. By way of analogy, as a non-perpetrater of say, child abuse, I find myself blithely in favour of laws against such practices; it is the actual offenders who disapprove most loudly.

Avatar of: fredg

fredg

Posts: 4

June 19, 2015

So, I cannot read the primary article, since its in a lesser known journal, and behind a $30 pay wall.

But the author (Oksvold) posted most of, if not the entire article on PubPeer.

https://pubpeer.com/topics/1/00BFB14250BD5F9B621AC4717AD14A#fb32166

Most of the "duplications" identified were authors using the same control lanes.  For instance, the authors load replicate Western blots, same samples, same time, etc.  One blot gets probed for Protein X, one for Protein Y,  one for Protein Z, and one for a loading control Tubulin.  Figure 1 then shows Protein X and loading control, Figure 2 shows Protein Y and the same loading control. This is considered by most scientists to be a legitimate way to analyze Westerns; for some obscure reason, Oksvold seems to think it isnt.

Here is the hooker.  Some bright investigative scientist has just posted on PubPeer an article in which Oskvold does exactly that!!  Shows a duplicated blot in two figure panels! 

https://pubpeer.com/publications/ACC0CC3038F88641D1CD0717B78A9B#fb32156

So, in summary, the article in Science and Engineering Ethics is (mostly) simply a report on a widely accepted means for presenting data. Although some of the examples showed by Oskvold on the PubPeer site are true data manipulations (mostly bands cut out of one gel and pasted into another, or bands stated to be one protein in one gel but another protein on another gel), but the vast majority or not.  The 25% rate is a vast overstatement.

 

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