The latest prominent withdrawal of research results from scientific literature is the retraction by Science of a study of changing attitudes about gay marriage. And it is very likely it will not be the last. A study by Nature in 2011, found an increase of 10-fold in retraction notices during the preceding decade.
Many retractions barely register outside of the scientific field. But in some instances, the studies that were clawed back made major waves in societal discussions of the issues they dealt with. This list recounts some prominent retractions that have occurred since 1980.
Vaccines and Autism
In 1998, The Lancet, a British medical journal, published a study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that suggested that autism in children was caused by the combined vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella. In 2010, The Lancetretracted the study following a review of Dr. Wakefield’s scientific methods and financial conflicts.
Despite challenges to the study, Dr. Wakefield’s research had a strong effect on many parents. Vaccination rates tumbled in Britain, and measles cases grew. American antivaccine groups also seized on the research. The United States had more cases of measles in the first month of 2015
than the number that is typically diagnosed in a full year.
Stem Cell Production
Papers published by Japanese researchers in Nature in 2014 claimed to provide an easy method to create multipurpose stem cells, with eventual implications for the treatment of diseases and injuries. Months later, the authors, including Haruko Obokata, issued a retraction. An investigation by one of Japan’s most prestigious scientific institutes, where much of the research occurred, found that the author had manipulated some of the images published in the study.
Approximately one month after the retraction, one of Ms. Obokata’s co-authors, Yoshiki Sasai, was found hanging in a stairwell of his office. He had taken his own life.
Cloning and Human Stem Cells
Papers in 2004 and 2005 in the journal Science pointed to major progress in human cloning and the extraction of stem cells. When it became clear that much of the data was fabricated, Science eventually retracted both papers.
Hwang Woo Suk, the lead author of the papers, was later convicted of embezzlement and bioethical violations in South Korea. In the years since his conviction, Dr. Hwang has continued working in the field, and was awarded an American patent in 2014 for the fraudulent work.
John Darsee’s Heart Research
In 1983, Dr. John Darsee, a heart researcher at both Harvard Medical School and Emory University, was caught faking data in most of his 100 published pieces. That Dr. Darsee managed to slip through the system undetected for 14 years revealed, said Dr. Eugene Braunwald, his former superior at Harvard, ”the extraordinary difficulty of detecting fabrication by a clever individual.” Dr. Darsee was barred from receiving federal funds for 10 years.
Physics Discoveries at Bell Labs
Between 1998 and 2001, Bell Labs announced a series of major breakthroughs in physics, including the creation of molecular-scale transistors. A panel found that 17 papers relied on fraudulent data, and blamed one scientist, J. Hendrik Schön. It did not fault Mr. Schön’s co-authors. In 2004, the University of Konstanz in Germany stripped Mr. Schön of his Ph.D.
Cancer in Rats and Herbicides
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology published a paper in 2012 that seemed to show that genetically modified corn and the herbicide Roundup caused premature death in rats resulting from cancer. In 2013, the journal retracted the study, finding that the number of rats studied had been too small, and that the strain of rats had prone to cancer. The lead author, Gilles-Eric Séralini, was not accused of fraud, and the paper was republished in 2014 in another journal.
Pesticides and Estrogen
A 1996 report in Science said mixtures of some pesticides might be endocrine disruptors and lead to a rise in estrogen hormones, causing cancer and birth defects in humans and animals. In 1997, the paper was withdrawn after its senior author, John A. McLachlan, admitted the results could not be reproduced. The paper’s publication affected federal legislation and set off a frantic round of research.
Diederik Stapel’s Psychology Research
Several dozen published papers by Diederik Stapel, a psychology researcher at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, were based on falsified data and faked experiments. Dr. Stapel’s studies, like one that found eating meat made people selfish, generated considerable media attention. Dr. Stapel admitted in an interview that his frauds were driven by “a quest for aesthetics, for beauty — instead of the truth.”
Marc Hauser’s Cognition Research
In 2010, Harvard University found that Marc Hauser, a researcher in animal and human cognition, had committed eight instances of scientific misconduct. Dr. Hauser retracted a 2002 paper in the journal Cognition about rule learning in monkeys, and corrected his research in other papers. A federal investigation also found that Dr. Hauser had committed fraud. Dr. Hauser left his post at Harvard in 2011.
Image and article via The New York Times