Food for Thought: Retraction Watch

Founded by two medical journalists, Ivan Oransky, executive director of Reuters Health, and Adam Marcus, managing editor of Anesthesiology News, RetractionWatch is an exciting source on scientific errors and fraud and worth watching for scientists as well as science writers.

The blog emerged late last year after Lancet Oncology “expressed concern” (the authors describe this as a “Britishism for ‘holy shit'”) on the validity of a report the paper published in 2007. The report had identified gene signatures predicting the response of breast cancer to neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Not only had one of the authors falsely claimed to be a Rhodes scholar, but statisticians had questioned the methodology. Others raised concerns about how the biospecimens, which had been used for the study, had been collected, transported, preserved, processed, and stored for the actual testing. The case later unfolded into a scandal and led to the retraction of several widely cited papers by one of the co-authors of the study.

Since then, the blog has reports out every week, and the most recent ones are about Germany. The first features the latest developments in the case of the prominent German anesthesiologist  Joachim Boldt from Klinikum Ludwigshafen. According to a report by Landesärztekammer Rheinland-Pfalz around 90 papers by Boldt might require retraction because the investigator failed to obtain approval from an institutional review board to conduct the research. Moreover, at least one paper by Boldt featured a study that most likely has never been conducted. The meanwhile retracted paper in Anesthesia & Analgesia had described the benefits of using hydroxyethyl starch (HES) in adult cardia  surgery to stabilize circulation in case of huge blood and fluid loss.

The second deals with the retraction of a dozen papers by immunologist Silvia Bulfone-Paus of Forschungszentrum Borstel because of scientific misconduct.

Science writers who want to stay on top of the latest developments, might also follow Ivan’s other blog, Embargowatch, featuring news about embargo policies, breaking embargoes and whose interest they serve.