The Top 10 Retractions of 2014

A look at this year’s most memorable retractions

By Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky | December 23, 2014

FLICKR, JUDY VAN DER VELDENThis year, stories about scientific retractions were dominated by big numbers—60 at once in one case, 120 in one fell swoop in another—as well as the eyebrow-raising practice of researchers submitting fake peer reviews, often ones they themselves had written. Here are our picks for the top 10 stories, in no particular order.

1. It would be difficult to chronicle 2014’s key retractions without noting the two STAP stem cell paper retractions from Nature. Readers detected significant problems with the research, and Haruko Obokata, who led the studies, was ultimately unable to replicate the findings. Nature has defended its decision to publish the articles, saying editors couldn’t have detected the errors. Science, however, had earlier rejected one of the manuscripts for being too flawed to publish. One of Obokata’s colleagues, Yoshiki Sasai, was not responsible for any misconduct, but committed suicide following the scandal.

2. Although this story technically broke last year, it was late enough not to make our 2013 list, and the retraction happened in 2014: A former researcher at Iowa State University (ISU) spiked rabbit blood samples with human blood to make it look as though his HIV vaccine was working. Dong-Pyou Han is now facing criminal charges, and ISU was forced to pay back nearly $500,000 of his salary—both rare events.

3. In July, the publisher SAGE retracted 60 articles from the Journal of Vibration and Control after an investigation revealed a “peer review and citation ring” in which at least one professor in Taiwan, Peter Chen, allegedly assumed false identities to promote his own work.

4. Just two weeks after publishing a paper on the psychology of Facebook users, PNAS issued an Expression of Concern about the work. The article’s many critics complained that the study violated ethical norms because it did not alert participants that they were taking part in a research project. As The Atlantic put it: “Even the Editor of Facebook’s Mood Study Thought It Was Creepy.”

5. Two major publishers were caught out after having published more than 120 bogus papers produced by the random text generator SCIgen. French computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

6. So much for science in the public interest: Bowing to commercial pressure, the authors of a paper in the African Journal of Food Sciences on cassava yanked it after a company claimed the article was damaging to its business.

7. A highly controversial 2012 study retracted in 2013 resurfaced this year. The paper by Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and rats was republished—without going through peer review, according to the editor of the journal where it ran.

8. The investigation into the work of social psychologist Jens Förster, which has been going on for most of the year, resulted in its first retraction in November. Förster, who is accused of manipulating data, has vehemently denied wrongdoing.

9. Stem cell research popped up on Retraction Watch a number of times this year. In one significant case, Circulation retracted a 2012 study by a group of Harvard heart specialists over concerns of corrupt data, and the university is investigating. There has also been an expression of concern in The Lancet. The group was led by Piero Anversa, a leading cardiologist, who along with a colleague filed suit against the institution on the grounds that the inquiry was damaging to his career prospects.

10. Finally, in the last few weeks of the year, Elsevier retracted 16 papers by one researcher after it became clear that fake peer reviews were behind the acceptances of Khalid Zaman’s papers.

Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky are co-founders of Retraction Watch.

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Avatar of: APATL


Posts: 3

December 23, 2014


Avatar of: Godagesil


Posts: 2

December 23, 2014

When as a college student studying for  and ultimatly earning a masters in Earth and Atmospheric science, I was struck by the words my mineralogy and petrology professor had printed on the bottom of all his exams he handed out before leaving the room and letting us complete out tests with no supervison(something I should think in today's academic setting would be unthinkable). "Honor is assumed of a Geologist,"  He claimed that to his knowledge no geoscientist had committed professional or scientific fraud to his knowledge because it was just too easy for another geoscientist to verify the claims of others.  Then just before I graduated, an Indian geologist was found to have falsified paleontological data from a fromation high in the Himalayas.  And you guess it, a doubting fellow paleontologist visited the type section in the mountains and dispproved the the other man's fraudulent claims.  I find a disturbing trend in the article that it looks like those commiting the fraud are from developing countries (if China is still considered developing).  What is it about these people that they feel compelled to get ahead at any cost.  Dont' they teach ethic and morals in institutions of higher learning, or is it a case of them coming from a culture berift of those kinds of teachings?

Avatar of: SB80


Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from Godagesil made on December 23, 2014

December 24, 2014

Given that at least 7 out of the 10 retractions listed here come from the US, Europe or Japan I see absolutely no basis for for your assertion.

The idea that geologists are some how more honourable than other scientists is patently absurd, and the fact you think it so easy to verify their work suggests a poor understanding. Science is often difficult to verify, reproducibility is the bane of scientists lives (this is without miconduct thrown in) and with geology one would imagine it is even more so given that it often requires travelling to remote locations sometimes with large amounts of equipment.

Avatar of: dumbdumb


Posts: 99

December 28, 2014

I know from personal experience about two articles in prestigious journals containing fake data. The author of one (retracted) is now a staff member in a US national lab. The author of the other (still out in the wild) is a researcher at NRC Canada.

Bottom line, all in all, faking results is still the best way to make a career

Avatar of: Samir Hachani

Samir Hachani

Posts: 1

Replied to a comment from Godagesil made on December 23, 2014

January 1, 2015

I was going to reply and prove your comment ridiculous but I decided simply to say this : shame on you !!!!!

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