Friday, December 15, 2006

Cell Paper Retracted

Professor Ban-Yang Chang of the National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, China retracted a paper published in Cell. It was the first time a Taiwan based research group had paper published on the privileged journal.

A Russian Biology student noticed some of the figures of this paper were obviously photo-shopped, including repetitive pattern of copy & paste and clear edge looks like a result of drawing. A discussion on the Unknown Space (MITBBS), an oversea Chinese students online community revealed many of the group's previous publication on varies journals questionable. Cell requested the original test image, but the group failed to provide. After a committee recommend the retraction of the paper, Yu-Chan Chao, the Dean of the College of Life Sciences of National Chung Hsing University called the episode an "unfortunate case" and added that "the university will take this as a serious lesson for ethics education at all the colleges in the future." Professor Chang insisted on the conclusion of the paper.

Professor Chang set two No. 1 record among Taiwan based research groups in this incident: the first paper published in Cell, and the first paper retracted from Cell. The incident is also a rare case in the academic world when a well acclaimed study was taken down not by contest from established groups, but by questions raised anonymously on an online forum.

The paper in question was published by Cell on Oct 20, 2006. Hsin-Hsien Hsu, Kuei-Min Chung, Tsung-Ching Chen and Ban-Yang Chang, Role of the Sigma Factor in Transcription Initiation in the Absence of Core RNA Polymerase, Cell.

A time line of the incident assembled by ID 'sanger' of the MITBBS:
10/20/2006 The paper was published by Cell;
11/16/2006 ID 'yuuli' posted on MITBBS alleging academic fraud after his Russian lab-mate noticed the forgery of a key test image Figure 2C was doctored;
11/18/2006 ID 'motif' posted on MITBBS alleging another paper published by the group in JBC also used a doctored photos; ID 'tataat' alleged another paper published by the group in J Gen Virol (87, 1357-67, 2006) faked test data;
11/21/2006 Professor Chang denied the allegations, and accused mainland students lack of ethics and integrity education, which agonized the situation. Oversea mainland students frequent MITBBS 'Biology Board' called Cell for an investigation;
11/22/2006 Kuei-Min Chung, the first author of JBC paper published a rebuttal, in which he claimed the questioned photo was a result of compression, not forgery;
12/3/2006 Kuei-Min Chung acknowledged doctoring of photos;
12/13/2006 ScienceNow Daily News revealed the retraction of Cell paper

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