Sigh

May 7, 2007

To recap. Luminary of the MDMA field published high-impact Science paper in 2002 which had to be retracted a year later over a “mistake” in the drug used. Other retractions followed from the same mistake. Much hoopla in popular press and elsewhere seriously emboldening denialists of the MDMA-advocacy position. Much time and NIH $$ wasted in the year it took for the original authors to ‘fess up even though they knew within months of publication that they were having difficulty replicating the effect. (Full Discl: Your Humble Narrator being one of those wasting not-insubstantial amounts of time because of the erroneous original publication.)

Ricaurte was awarded a competing continuation of one of his R01s in 2002 on the strength of the work that was retracted (going by the abstract) and a K05 in April 05. New R01 in Aug 05 based on a finding which bears some of the hallmarks of the unusual finding/overselling that was possibly part of the problem with the Science paper debacle. Apparently the NIH can’t throw money at this guy fast enough.

This week, we have a correction of the usual molecular biology sort from this group.

instead of inserting the panel corresponding to SERT antibody 1, we
inserted the panel corresponding to SERT antibody 2 correctly shown in Figure 8, top panel, of the published paper). This resulted in duplication of the panel for SERT antibody 2, and omission of the panel for SERT antibody 1, now included in corrected Figure 4 (panel a). In the same figure, the bar graph in the lowest panel of the published figure was incorrect (same as bar graph in top panel of figure 8).

YHN cannot understand how this sort of thing happens. Really. I just don’t get how the wrong figures make it through one round of revision, proofing and a 12 month publication delay at this journal. I don’t understand how when the lab comes to the PI with findings that look very similar to other things they’ve published, the PI doesn’t say “Are you sure it was MDMA and not methamphetamine? This looks like meth to me…” At the very, very best, this lab is sloppy. Why does he deserve more money? Why? No doubt he’s over the salary cap, meaning that NIH could be getting two younger investigators for the price of one of him.

Some appear to wonder how scientific misconduct persists, well, because it pays…

*************

Update: MarkH over at the denialism blog invited some traditional peer-review bashing in the comments. A comment touches facetiously on the role of peer review in blog bloviation. Why not? Why depend on random blog readers to comment? Why not seek out expert professional opinion on blog topics? So we’ll be trying a little experiment in soliciting expert opinion…

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4 Responses to “Sigh”

  1. Mike Taffe Says:

    okay, I’ll bite.

    One thing that strikes me about the most-recent correction is that the PI does not appear to have much technical expertise in this area. It is likely becoming more and more common with translational and synergistic research projects that any one author is simply not competent to ensure the accuracy of the whole thing. Maybe this is lamentable but this is reality.

    As far as impact on the field, it should be recognized that, fortunately, this is still an area in which replication is possible and very much alive. Part of the uproar on the 2002 paper was because people were trying and failing to replicate the finding. This shows that the system works as it should. The Xie correction is for a paper in (hopefully) the middle of a robust scientific exchange between two labs so, again, errors are likely to be detected. Thus it is somewhat immaterial to the science if there is the occasional mistake. Agreed that this means that additional time and resources are “wasted” but one could say this about any number of legitimately published findings which ultimately are falsified.

    you might find this report on retractions to be interesting.

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  2. dudeman Says:

    The recent corrigendum of Xie et al. appears to clarify an honest mistake, yet certain issues are worth noting. On the one hand, the “mistake” comes from a research group with a history of more egregious errors- errors which led to the retraction of important publications. Accordingly, the question arises: How can Federal funding agencies continue to reward careless scientific enterprise? On the other hand, the corrections to the original Figs. of Xie et al. do not alter the major findings of the paper in any way. Thus, the corrigendum represents an effective strategy for re-publishing the same message that MDMA is toxic. Such a message is fully consistent with the prevailing war-on-drugs mentality in Washington.

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  3. [...] is my ongoing point in my comments to Dr. Free-Ride’s posts. We all have examples from our favorite fields. Retractions in journals and ORI findings of violations just keep on coming. The critical [...]

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  4. [...] to do so. Take the situation with MDMA and neurotoxicity. The 2002/03 Ricaurte affair was a scientific screw up but it shows what happens when credibility is lost. The retraction of one paper resulted in a lot [...]

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