Research Integrity: the Experience of a Doubting Thomas
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- Hettinger, T.P. Arch. Immunol. Ther. Exp. (2014) 62: 81. doi:10.1007/s00005-014-0272-3
The sensational “reactome array” paper published in Science in 2009 was investigated in Spain by the Ethics Committee of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC) after Science issued an editorial expression of concern. The paper was retracted in 2010 because of “skepticism” due to “errors” in chemistry. The “errors” were so profound that many readers expressed doubt that they were really errors, but part of an elaborate hoax. I conducted a forensic analysis of mass spectrometry data in the paper’s Supporting Online Material (SOM) and was able to prove that thousands of data values were in fact fabricated. The SOM contains signatures of improper extensive spreadsheet manipulations of incorrect atomic and molecular mass values as well as impossibly repetitive deviations of found molecular mass values from their expected values. No evidence of real mass spectrometry data was detected. Both CSIC and Science have been content to retract the paper without acknowledging the fabrications or assigning responsibility for them. Neither CSIC nor Science has expressed interest in having an independent investigation determining how the paper came to be written, reviewed and published. Their weak response to this episode is a daunting signal that there is an impending crisis in research integrity and science journalism.