Papers Pulled for Image Manipulation

Scientists retract two studies from the Journal of Virology, citing another case of an author tinkering with figures.

Dec 30, 2015
Tracy Vence

FREE STOCK PHOTOSResearchers at Sweden’s Uppsala University have pulled three papers from the literature after confirming readers’ allegations of image manipulation. In the team’s latest retractions, which appear in the Journal of Virology’s January 2016 issue, the researchers noted that both studies on viral replication contained images that “were unacceptably manipulated” by first author Apiruck Watthanasurorot.

Specifically, the authors wrote, panels in the articles’ figures appear to be duplicated from those in other figures. “Since the integrity of the data as presented was compromised and A. Watthanasurorot cannot provide reliable original files for these figures, this publication is retracted in its entirety,” the authors wrote in one of the retraction notices. In the other retracted paper, images were reused from the same publication, the researchers noted. In both retractions, coauthors Irene and Kenneth Söderhäll noted that Watthanasurorot could not be reached.

In April, Watthanasurorot’s team retracted another virology study—published in PLOS Genetics—for a similar reason. Figures in this paper were incorrectly scaled and assembled, among other things, the authors wrote in their retraction notice. “These figures cannot be considered to reliably represent the data collected. Although replicates are available for the figures, the authors are retracting this publication, due to the possibility of misrepresentation of the data,” they wrote. “All of the authors believe that it is necessary to confirm that the conclusions drawn are corrected for publication in the future.”

Update (January 6): Retraction Watch today reported that study coauthors Irene and Kenneth Söderhäll were censured in September by an independent ethical review committee in Sweden for negligence regarding Watthanasurorot’s misdeeds. According to Retraction Watch, the research team also issued a fourth retraction, this one on a 2013 paper published in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology. The Söderhälls, along with their coauthor Pikul Jiravanichpaisal, also of Uppsala University at the time, agreed to retract the paper because of “inaccurate figure handling and assembly made by the first author Apiruck Watthanasurorot,” the three wrote. “The first author [Watthanasurorot] has admitted responsibility for these anomalies,” they added.