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A paper retraction and a strange blog post

Posted Jan 24 2013 8:29pm

My pubmed email alerts had a retraction notice recently. Enhanced Polyubiquitination of Shank3 and NMDA Receptor in a Mouse Model of Autism now shows “retracted”.

Per a tweet from Steve Silberman:

Did a blog raise the alarm about falsified figures in a now-retracted mouse study of #autism ?

— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) January 17, 2013

It turns out a blog called “Autism Researchers” noted that figures in the paper included identical data, but in non-identical places. For example:

Aside from the odd possibility that a blog may have contributed to the downfall of a paper (not too odd if you recall ERV’s analysis of an XMRV paper ), is the fact that the blog has one real entry. They have a first “hello world” entry, which is a throwaway WordPress first blog entry, and the one discussing this paper ( Alleged Image Data Falsification in a CELL Paper ). Looks to this observer like someone created a throwaway blog to note the possible problems with this paper.

This is a top journal (Cell), and a top research group and insitution (Johns Hopkins, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders and Sichuan University, Chengdu). The paper has been cited 54 times. Retraction Watch reports that the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) is aware if thus case.

The “improperly assembled” figures all appear in the same paper in Cell. This is unlike the case of (non autism researcher) Jan Hendrik Schön of Bell Labs, who had what could be phrased as “improperly assembled” figures (in his case, duplicated data) in multiple papers.

We don’t have the time and the money to have multiple researchers pursuing projects based on “improperly assembled” figures in a high profile paper. The Cell paper hasn’t led to public health scares, as another case of improperly assembled research data. But with NIH funding and 54 citations, it may be wasting time and money that are both very scarce in the autism world.

By Matt Carey

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