With everyday life looking more and more like it did before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, our list of the year’s top retractions—this is our tenth for The Scientist—doesn’t include any coronavirus-related papers for the first time since the pandemic began. Instead, we have a Nobel prize winner, bulk retractions for manipulated peer review and the output of paper mills, and cancer researchers caught manipulating data. Read on for these and the rest of our top retractions of 2022.
1 Leslie McIntosh, CEO and cofounder of Ripeta, a tech company that offers automated tools to assess scientific papers, was on Twitter one day when she saw a tweet posted this March by a pseudonymous account bemoaning a journal’s lack of action on “an obvious case of plagiarism” that the owner of the account had reported more than a year earlier. McIntosh dug in and found that the author of the plagiarizing paper, neuropharmacology researcher Mohammed Sahab Uddin, had published more than 160 papers since 2016—an astounding amount—all before beginning a PhD program at Hong Kong University. McIntosh notified the university, which investigated Uddin, prompting him to withdraw from the program. The paper that started it all was eventually retracted.
2 Two groups of specialist doctors at a large teaching hospital in Brazil saw the same patient who had been injured after chiropractic spinal cord manipulation. Both groups thought the case was interesting enough to write up and submit for publication. But the clinicians didn’t talk to each other about their plans, so both groups published a paper, though not in the same journal. After some chiropractors noticed similarities between the case studies and contacted the journals, both papers got editorial notes, one an “expression of concern,” and the other a “notice of dual publication.”
3 In 2019, Gregg Semenza shared the Nobel prize in Medicine or Physiology for “discoveries of how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability” from the 1990s. This year, the Johns Hopkins researcher retracted four papers he published later in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences after concerns were raised that images in the articles showed duplicated data. “We believe that the overall conclusions of the paper remain valid, but we are retracting the work due to these underlying concerns about the figures,” Semenza and his coauthors wrote in the retraction notices (which are hardly the first for Nobelists, by the way.)
4 A group of researchers in Michigan who matched published scientific articles to ones that had been advertised for sale by a paper mill, meaning scientists could purchase a space in the author list, saw some payoff for their work this year when a journal retracted 30 papers they had identified. The sleuths, Brian Perron of the University of Michigan, Oliver Hiltz-Perron, a high school student, and Bryan Victor of Wayne State University, created a database of article titles and authorship positions listed for sale on the website of a Russian company, International Publisher, and published their findings in Retraction Watch last year. They found nearly 200 published articles that matched the listings, many of which were in the International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning. About a year after the trio notified the journal, it retracted the articles.
5 For a class he was taking, Paul Lodder, a graduate student at the University of Amsterdam, wanted to expand upon a published model of what happens in the brain when a person takes psychedelic drugs. He was in touch with Rubén Herzog of the Universidad de Valparaíso in Chile, who first developed the model, but couldn’t get the results to replicate. Finally, Herzog shared the original code, and Lodder discovered why he couldn’t get the same results: The script contained a typo. In what Lodder called “a display of extreme academic integrity from beginning to end,” Herzog retracted the study, and said he plans to list Lodder as a coauthor on a new version of the paper, with corrected code.
6 An investigation by The Ohio State University found that cancer biologist Samson Jacob, a retired professor, had committed research misconduct and that his lab had a “permissive culture of data manipulation,” according to an official university report Retraction Watch obtained through a public records request. The investigation committee recommended that the university revoke Jacob’s status as professor emeritus, which it did. It also recommended retracting 10 of his papers, in addition to nine that had already been pulled and one other that had been corrected. Journals retracted four of those articles this year, but the rest remain unflagged.
7 Late last year, the publisher Elsevier placed an expression of concern on a paper about the influence of neurotransmitters on sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders after “some readers have raised concerns” and a subsequent outcry on social media. Late this year, the article was retracted, a decision with which the authors did not agree. In the retraction note, the journal wrote that the comparisons the authors drew between humans and animal models “were deemed unsupportable.”
8 Cancer researcher Toni Brand, who now teaches at a private school in California, was caught faking data in her PhD thesis, a grant application, and seven published papers, according to findings released this year by the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, a federal watchdog for biomedical research. One of Brand’s papers was retracted last year, and this year another was pulled for duplicated data.
9 Physics publisher IOP retracted 850 articles this year after Nick Wise, a researcher at Cambridge University in the UK who studies fluid dynamics, tipped them off to oddities he noticed in some papers. The retractions came in a batch of 350 announced in February, and another of 500 in September. Specifically, Wise saw a pattern in the papers’ titles. When IOP began investigating, the publisher found other similarities that suggested the articles originated from a paper mill. “The same reason those 500 papers were retracted in IOP, there’s a good 10 times that many elsewhere,” Wise told Retraction Watch.
10 In addition to retracting large tranches of articles after finding evidence they came from paper mills, publishers have retracted papers in bulk for manipulation of the peer review process. Authors often submit the name and email address of a “suggested reviewer,” but the email address does not belong to that person, and the review that comes in is of unknown provenance. In October, the Elsevier journal Thinking Skills and Creativity retracted nearly 50 articles for this reason. The International Journal of Electrical Engineering & Education, published by SAGE, retracted more than 120 papers late last year that had a number of indicators of manipulated and poor quality peer review. And, this September, the publisher Hindawi, a subsidiary of Wiley, announced it would retract more than 500 articles across 16 journals after a months-long investigation found networks of reviewers and editors manipulating the review process.