Nature Medicine | Spoonful of Medicine

A retrospective of retractions: the striking record in 2011

John Darsee was a young clinical investigator with a long list of publications in top-tier journals and a promising career ahead of him in cardiology research. Described by a former supervisor as “one of the most remarkable young men in American medicine,” Darsee was offered a faculty position at the Harvard Medical School in Boston at the age of 33. But then his career quickly started to unravel. One day, colleagues caught Darsee fraudulently labeling data for a study into heart attacks; further investigations revealed scientific misconduct on a massive scale, and, eventually, Darsee was fired and barred from receiving federal grant money for ten years. More than 80 of his papers were withdrawn from the literature. He ultimately apologized for publishing “inaccuracies and falsehoods.”

That was twenty years ago. But the problem of retractions has not gone away — in fact, it may be getting worse, with the number of such notices on the rise. And whereas the Darsee case took more than decade to come to light (and only then because of an accidental discovery), these days image detection software and the vigilance of media outlets such as Retraction Watch (see ‘The Yearbook’) can catch irregularities — be they due to innocent error or misconduct — much sooner. The ability to track these changes provides benefits to biomedicine, as experiments in the scientific literature lay the foundation for future experiments. Here we look back at instances from the past year where multiple papers from certain investigators came under scrutiny.

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