Ignore Data … Retract Paper or Sue University?

In this week’s issue of Science … a dissertation unto itself:

“Because of “numerous questions,” Osaka University’s Graduate School of Medicine has told one of its research groups to retract a 2004 Science paper on an insulin-mimicking protein secreted by fat tissue. The school’s dean, Masaya Tohyama, last week held a press conference to issue the unusual demand, which came after a year-long investigation.

The school has not alleged scientific misconduct, and the paper’s corresponding author, Iichiro Shimomura, says the issues raised by the investigation, such as ignoring data that complicated the paper’s conclusions, do not warrant retraction. The metabolism researcher says he and the other authors are considering legal action against the university for how it handled the case.

… Harvey Lodish, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in Cambridge, says that the decision to drop the female heterozygotes “seems all right to me.” But Lodish, who co-authored a commentary in Science on the research, says that because of other questions about the work, “we reserved judgment as to the reality of visfatin as a secreted insulin-mimetic hormone.”

… Shimomura says the group responded to other issues raised by the investigating committee in a rebuttal and stands by its original results. In a statement issued by Science, its editor-in-chief, Donald Kennedy, said the journal was taking the matter “very seriously.”

… This is the second time Shimomura has been a corresponding author on a problematic paper. In November 2005, he retracted a paper published by Nature Medicine a year earlier when it was found that the first author, Nobuyasu Komazawa, had fabricated data. Komazawa was not a contributor to the visfatin paper. “

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