A team of scientists including Linda B. Buck, who shared the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, has retracted a scientific paper after the scientists could not reproduce their original findings.
In the paper, the researchers described how they produced genetically engineered mice that produced a plant protein in certain smell-related neurons. The researchers had claimed that as the plant protein traveled between neurons, they could map out which neurons in the cortex of the brain received information from which smell receptors in the nose.
In the retraction, published by Nature on Thursday, the researchers said, “Moreover, we have found inconsistencies between some of the figures and data published in the paper and the original data. We have therefore lost confidence in the reported conclusions.”
“It’s disappointing,” Dr. Buck, who is now at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the journal Nature in a news article about the retraction. “The important thing is to correct the literature.”
Randall Reed, a professor of molecular biology and genetics at Johns Hopkins University, said the Nature paper generated considerable interest when it was published, but it was not central to the body of work that won Dr. Buck the Nobel Prize. “I think it more leaves an open hole about something we thought that maybe we had a glimpse of,” Dr. Reed said.
I had previously paraphrased some parts of the above article, but my exact wording so annoyed the trolls (one of whom is now banned from my site for trollish behavior above and beyond) that I have reverted to direct quotes only. (See comments below)
The retraction itself is published in Nature. It is interesting to note that the retraction includes a more specific outline of who did what in relation to this paper. My reading of this (and this is just my opinion, not subject to trolling or deletion) is that this may well have been yet another case of a person with some fame and/or power getting his/her name on a paper while doing virtually none of the work. One of the down sides of doing this (besides all that comes with simply being a bad person) is that if you are so distantly involved in a paper you put your name on, sometimes the paper comes back and bites you. This paper came back and bit Buck. One may even wonder if there was a point to that.
I could be wrong about that. It could be that Buck simply didn’t understand the science the first time around and got this badly screwed up, then realized the mistake later. That could be a result of premature publication or a result of just not being too smart. Not all Nobel Prize winners are smart. In fact, some of them are amazingly stupid.
The third possibility is that the science itself was just screwy in a very interesting way. It is possible that one set of experiments can lead to one result, another to a different result, thus “no replication” but with the difference not being because of the incompetence of the researchers or a random screw up in the work, but rather, because of some fundamental thing that is not understood.
In that case, then a retraction would be the worst possible outcome, and science is not really self correcting in such an instance.
In any event I invite you to go read for yourself and find in it what you think is interesting and draw your won conclusions.