Nothing to see here (research paper retracted)

So.


Originally this blog post was going to be the exciting follow up to this one. You know, where I get into the nitty gritty about why I thought you’d love to hear about how fermenting herbal teas with a scoby make them even better?

But life is a funny old thing sometimes.

Before I sat down to block out exactly what I wanted to say about that research I did another quick search on PubMed to select the next few papers we’ll be analyzing. I figured I’d print them out and have a quick read of them while I sat on the sidelines of my daughter’s sports practice one evening. And this caught my eye…

A retraction notice for the very paper I was about to discuss! Pay attention to that key first word. Retraction.

This is not a thing that happens lightly. A published research paper can be retracted for a number of reasons, but according to the website Retraction Watch, only 20% of scientific retractions happen due to honest mistakes, meaning a whopping 80% of them are due to scientific misconduct.

So I clicked through to the article to see if I could find out more about why it had been retracted, and who had issued the retraction, because if the retraction request comes from the authors it is more likely to be an ‘honest mistake’ situation.

This article has been retracted: please see Elsevier Policy on Article Withdrawal (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/withdrawalpolicy).
This article was retracted at the request of the Editor. Errors/discrepancies in the supplementary data provided for the HPLC chromatographs in Fig. S1 have been detected by readers after publication, specifically significant analytical errors committed during peak identification of the Kombucha samples.
The Editor-in-Chief and Publisher apologize for any inconvenience caused to readers.

Elsevier’s policy states that retractions only occur under “exceptional circumstances.” They go on to say that retractions are for “infringements of professional ethical codes, such as multiple submission, bogus claims of authorship, plagiarism, fraudulent use of data or the like. Occasionally a retraction will be used to correct errors in submission or publication. The retraction of an article by its authors or the editor under the advice of members of the scholarly community has long been an occasional feature of the learned world.”

So yeah.

This paper was a bad news bear.

If I can briefly translate that ‘retraction notice’ into plain English, it says “Once this paper was published, other scientists had a good look at their data and noticed that there was no way that the results could possibly be interpreted the way that the authors were claiming. The authors were either incompetent or deliberately misleading. This notice will stay in the public domain and tarnish their careers for evermore.”

In short, whether they intended to or not, they majorly screwed up the interpretation of their data.

I briefly toyed with just ignoring the paper and moving on to the next one, but then decided that it wouldn’t be a good representation of science in all its glory. It’s a salutary reminder that while most scientific papers are good sources of information, whether the results are positive or negative, there is the occasional scientific paper that is a bag of manure and should never have been published.

Sadly this turned out to be the latter.

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Author: stacey

Stacey lives and works in the South Island of New Zealand with her husband, their 4 children, 4 hens, and a rabbit that they secretly think must have watched Monty Python's Holy Grail movie.

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