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The Top 10 Retractions of 2015

A look at this year’s most memorable retractions

Dec 23, 2015
Retraction Watch

PIXABAY, WILKERNETThis was a year for splashy headlines about retractions, after some much-ballyhooed findings were pulled. Some prominent scientists each retracted multiple papers in 2015. And, of course, the last 12 months saw more and more cases of faked peer review. Here, in no particular order, are our picks for the top 10 retraction stories of 2015.

  1. When we at Retraction Watch reported in May that political science grad student Michael LaCour had faked some aspects of a 2014 Science paper, the news crashed our site. That’s because the study—which claimed that short, in-person conversations could change people’s minds on same-sex marriage—had grabbed the media’s attention. But when graduate students who were not involved in the study found problems with the findings, Science pulled the paper.
     
  2. Plant biologist Olivier Voinnet would probably rather forget 2015. After several of his papers were questioned on PubPeer, Voinnet—winner of the 2013 Rössler Prize—announced he would be correcting the record for multiple papers. This month, he lodged his seventh retraction.
     
  3. Can’t take criticism? Just make up your own reviews! It may sound far-fetched, but we’ve now counted more than 270 retractions, more than half of them this year, which occurred because authors or editors compromised the peer-review process in some way—most egregiously, some authors faked email addresses for peer reviewers and gave their own papers a green light.
     
  4. We saw another fall from grace for a paper that was a media darling upon publication. An August paper that suggested feeling blue might affect how you see blues (and yellows) was pulled a couple of months later, after Christopher Thorstenson and his colleagues realized they’d omitted a key statistical test. And once they added it, their findings fell apart. Sure, it would have been nice to get it right the first time, but we gave these scientists kudos for explaining what happened in a transparent way and acting promptly to correct the record.
     
  5. Can’t make this stuff up: This spring, we found a retraction in the Indian Journal of Dermatology of a guideline for detecting and dealing with plagiarism, by Thorakkal Shamim. The reason the paper was pulled? Plagiarism. (We also discovered this retraction on April Fool’s Day—no joke.)
     
  6. Some advice: if you ever hear a professor suggest a student “put up with” her advisor looking down her shirt, you might advise said professor to retract that statement. That’s what Science Careers did after advice columnist and virologist Alice Huang suggested a postdoc bring “good humor” to her advisor’s leering.
     
  7. In June, Columbia University biologists apologized to readers and retracted a 2013 paper on Alzheimer’s disease after former postdoc Ryousuke Fujita fabricated and falsified research in 74 figure panels that also appeared in a retracted Cell paper and unpublished manuscripts.
     
  8. Cancer researcher Robert Weinberg lost four papers this year: A 2009 Cell paper, another in Cancer Research, and two in Genes and Development. At the time it was pulled, the Cell paper had been cited 676 times.
     
  9. Neuroscientist Edward Awh lost four papers in 2015 after David Anderson, one of his graduate students, admitted to falsifying data. In an unusual turn of events, Anderson responded to our request for comment by taking full responsibility for his actions, which he said resulted from an “error in judgment.”
     
  10. While it isn’t about a retraction in 2015, this story was too remarkable to leave off our list: after confessing to spiking samples for an HIV vaccine experiment, Dong Pyou-Han—whose case we mentioned in last year’s retractions roundup—was sentenced to nearly five years in prison and ordered to pay back millions of dollars in grant funding. It’s not the only time we’ve seen felony counts for fraudsters, but the sentence makes it the most remarkable one. (He’s appealing the decision.)

Adam Marcus, Alison McCook, and Ivan Oransky contributed reporting.

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