Research Integrity: the Experience of a Doubting Thomas

Letter to the Editor

Abstract

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 The paper was retracted in 2010 because of “skepticism” due to “errors” in chemistry.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.

Keywords

Ethics Forensic analysis Fraud Reactome array Research misconduct Science journalism 

Supplementary material

5_2014_272_MOESM1_ESM.xls (200 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (XLS 201 kb)

References

  1. Beloqui A, Guazzaroni ME, Pazos F et al (2009) Reactome array: forging a link between metabolome and genome. Science 326:252–257PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beloqui A, Guazzaroni ME, Pazos F et al (2010) Retraction. Science 330:912PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Coplen TB, Peiser HS (1997) History of the recommended atomic-weight values from 1882 to 1997 (International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry). http://old.iupac.org/reports/1998/7001coplen/history.pdf. Accessed 25 Oct 2013
  4. Puigdomènech P (2014) Dealing with scientific integrity issues: the Spanish experience.  Arch Immunol Ther Exp (Warsz) 62:1–6Google Scholar
  5. Travis J in ScienceInsider 3 Aug 2010 Nobel prize-winner says tests show controversial enzyme chip works. http://news.sciencemag.org/2010/08/nobel-prize%E2%80%93winner-says-tests-show-controversial-enzyme-chip-works. Accessed 25 Oct 2013

Copyright information

© L. Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Wroclaw, Poland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Connecticut Health CenterFarmingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations