A mega-correction, but no retraction, in the Journal of Cell Sciences


In our 2011 year-end post, we promised to keep

…an eye on what may be an emerging trend: The mega-correction. We’ve seen errata notices that correct so many different errors, it’s hard to believe the paper shouldn’t have been retracted. It’s unclear what this means yet, but watch this space for coverage of more examples.

We’ve found another example in the Journal of Cell Science, “Immunobiology of naïve and genetically modified HLA-class-I-knockdown human embryonic stem cells,” originally published in September 2011. The correction begins with what turns out to be a bit of an understatement:

There were errors published in J. Cell Sci. 2011 124, 3029–3037.

The list of those errors starts with a sentence that reminds us of a Retraction Watch post we wrote about a paper that included six authors without their permission:

The names of the following people were listed but should have been omitted from the list of authors:

Neil Phillips, Andrew Fire, Dolly Tyan, Mark Kay

We then get to the mistakes in the presentation of data:

Fig. 2 contains the following errors:

a. An incorrect image of panel was published.

b. Instead of eight, a total of ten animals made up both control groups that lead to the data shown in the graph.

c. An incorrect image of panel c has been published.

d. Balb/c cellular immune activation on the same day was significantly weaker after hESCKD rather than hESC transplantation. Spot frequencies of IFN-γ and IL-4 (P=0.001 and P<0.001, respectively) were significantly lower after hESCKD transplantation (d) when compared with hESCs.

That’s followed by a correct version of figure 2, and then it’s on to figure 5:

Fig. 5 contains the following errors:

(a, b) After incubation with CD3+ CD56− lymphocytes, hESCs (P<0.001 and P=0.005) but not hESCKD (P=1.0 and P=0.708) significantly increased the spot frequencies for IFN-γ(a) and IL-4 (b), respectively, compared with resting responder lymphocytes.

The correct version of figure 5 then appears.

Another sentence refers to funding for senior author Sonja Schrepfer:

The funding section has been accidentally omitted and should read:

S.S. received funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG; SCHR 992/3-1, SCHR 992/4-1).

Then there are the errors in the online extra:

In supplementary material Fig. S2, the BLI image of the hind limb (panel b) is incorrect. The published legend is correct.

In the final sentence, the notice refers to whom might be responsible for the mistakes:

The first author apologises for these errors.

We’ve contacted Schrepfer, as well as the first author, Tobias Deuse, for comment, and will update with anything we hear back.

We did hear from the journal’s acting executve editor, Petra Gross:

You might appreciate that I cannot share the confidential details underlying the publication of this correction and any investigations that we may have carried out, but I would like to reassure you that if we had determined that the errors in the original paper had affected its overall results and conclusion, we would have retracted it as per our published policies (http://jcs.biologists.org/site/journal/pub_ethics.xhtml).

I would also like to remind you that our publisher, the Company of Biologists, is a member of COPE and that we follow the COPE’s code of conduct.

So what to make of this mega-correction? On the one hand, it’s quite transparent about what was wrong with the paper when originally published. We appreciate detailed explanations like this one, no matter how the addendum is categorized. And some of the errors, if we’re reading them correctly, may have actually weakened the results, suggesting that the correction actually strengthens the conclusions.

Still, we can’t help but wonder, given the scope, if a correction was the best way to go. We look forward to Retraction Watch readers’ thoughts.


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