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.

UPDATE:

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.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2008

    Well, there is no accounting for the New York Times. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2008

    PhysioProf,

    If you read my post and you read the NYT piece, you will see that 80 percent of my post is the NYT piece quoted (those things called “blockquotes” are, well quotes, not whatever you were doing with them here).

    The phrases in my post before and after are close paraphrases. The point of this brief post is to direct my readers to something they might find interesting. I am not expressing an opinion. This is utterly obvious by looking at this post.

    I don’t actually have an opinion on this except that the buck seems to have acted inappropriately in having her name on this paper to begin with, and that I find it astounding that she would have the balls to conduct herself in the way that she has. OK, so I do have an opinion but about Buck’s ethics when it comes to publication, not the N.P.

    But, my opninion is based on the NYT piece and your blog post. I’ve not read the original piece (nor do I claim above to have done so). I was directed to your post on this issue by a mutual colleague, and as with all of your other writing it is so grotesquely stylized, in a way that is not even remotely interesting to me, that it is hard to get through the crap (or should I say fucking crap) to get what you mean. But, I think I was able to parse you.

    Now, if you have something to contribute to this discussion that is comprehensible please post it. But do not tell me what to write or how to write it. I welcome the former, if all you have is the latter, then please go away.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2008

    I really have no desire to misrepresent the article, but I don’t think I did. Perhaps you would like to explain what you are talking about regarding this issue (the experiment, the paper, the N.P, etc.) if you think my readers would be interested.

    You should not be so sensitive. It does not fit with your trope (of trying to act like the most obnoxious person on the internet).

  4. #4 HI
    March 7, 2008

    I agree with PhysioProf.

    Here is what the NYT article wrote:

    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.

    Randall Reed is being unambiguous that the paper was “not central” and I think anyone familiar with Linda Buck’s works will agree with him.

    Here is what Greg Laden wrote (emphasis mine):

    The paper is not necessarily central to the reason that she was awarded the Nobel.

    Can you see that seemingly innocent addition of necessarily makes a big difference?

  5. #5 MRW
    March 8, 2008

    Notably, “the scientific community”‘s inability to reproduce the results isn’t noted in the retraction or the Times article. Buck’s own lab couldn’t reproduce the results.

    The really interesting part was pointed out by physioprof on (his? her?) blog – the retraction has an interesting author contributions section.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2008

    Well, to all my anonymous commenters: There is absolutely nothing inaccurate about my post, and again, it is absolutely clear that I’m simply pointing people to a story, not commenting on it. I assure you that any rewording has no purpose whatsoever.

    Blogs are also self correcting in some ways, and so I appreciate your pointing out that my rewording could lead some to a mis conclusion. So, I’ll leave the post as it is and readers can wade through your comments and get either more or less confused.

    However, it is interesting that while I took very little interest myself in this story, I now feel that this paper DOES relate very much to her Nobel Prise. I don’t think one should give a N.P. to a felon or a scoundrel. In my view, her approach to publication makes her one or the other or both. Buck is the kind of ‘scientist’ that makes us all cringe.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2008

    PP: If you don’t like how I wrote what I wrote, then don’t read it. I didn’t read the original paper because I did not find it interesting enough, but I thought the topic would interest some of my readers. The little I got out of the piece written about this on Drug Monkey (which is a bit hard to parse) tells me that there are serious questions about how this paper was written and retracted. My position is not indefensible, and I’m not holding tighter and tighter (or not) to anything.

    Moving on is a good idea. For you. Please do so.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2008

    PhysioProf: You need to understand the following. You are a troll. As long as you act like a troll you will be treated like a troll. You get as much respect from me as spot of mud that might be stuck to the bottom of my boot.

  9. #9 MarkH
    March 8, 2008

    Ouch. Being a little hard on each other aren’t we sciblings?

    Your last sentence is a problem. I read your piece and thought “oh shit”, then read physioprof’s comment and the article and realized the real story is totally different. Just fix the last sentence so it says, “this work is not central to her Nobel” or “this does not impact the work that contributed to her Nobel” because quite frankly it doesn’t.

    It’s just a retraction, your piece makes it sound like the whole Nobel was a fudge.

  10. #10 Scott Belyea
    March 9, 2008

    I’m just a lay reader, but the actual NYT article has a very different feel to it than does the blog post.

    It’s sloppy writing, and makes me wonder if the writer actually read the NYT article, or simply glanced at it.

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008

    Mark H, that is good advice. I appreciate not only what you suggest, but also the helpful and reasonable attitude with which you suggest it.

  12. #12 Orac
    March 9, 2008

    I’m with PhysioProf and MarkH on this one. Your original post made it sound as though Beck didn’t deserver her Nobel. In fact, I can’t believe you wrote such a poorly-considered bit of trash. I agree with PhysioProf wholeheartedly when he said:

    Instead of holding tighter and tighter to a patently indefensible position the more it is debunked (gee, I wonder which people that you spend a lot of time talking about on this blog do that a lot?), why not admit you are wrong, correct your shitty piece, and move on?

    Indeed, your “correction” and self-justification strikes me as a load of crappy self-justification when you should have just admitted a mistake, and your banning of PhysioProf for correctly calling you on the carpet for your mistake was a cowardly act. You couldn’t take the heat; so you banned the commenter. Not impressive behavior.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008

    Orac,

    Let me make myself perfectly clear. I have demonstrated again and again that I am willing to listen to criticism,and I’ve changed blog posts in response. But PhysioProf has an approach that I find incredibly annoying and unethical, and I do not give him any consideration whatsoever. Never have, never will.

    I have some serious problems with anonymous blogging, frankly. Same with anonymous commenting. I accept that people may need to or really want to do this for some good reason, and I’m not necessarily saying that I think it is always wrong … I do not have such a well formed opinion of it, and I know there is a range.

    But all the GOOD reasons for anonymous blogging or commenting I can think of are about a person either protecting themselves professionally or from some kind of habitual attack, or simply because they are too weak in some area of personality to face the social interaction.

    PhysioProf, however, has a different approach, which I have never commented on before but I’m now being forced to: He or she has an approach to blogging and commenting that is obnoxious and offensive, not acceptable in my neighborhood, and he or she hides this atrocious behavior behind this anonymity. PhysioProf hides behind a cloak of anonymity and from there snipes atrociously on others. There is nothing redeeming in this approch. Is this supposed to be funny? It is not. Is it supposed to allow PhysioProf to do or say things that are both amazing and wonderful to read and that could otherwise not be said? So far that has not happened.

    If I had ever been asked an opinion on PhysioProf coming aboard Sb, I would have said I didn’t think it appropriate or desirable. I don’t read either blog because I find them obnoxious, and I don’t appreciate the crappy comments on my site.

    Honestly, Physiprof’s reaction to my post was a) technically correct and b) too obnoxious to take seriously. No, sorry, the argument that “truth in any form is acceptable” is not part of the culture on my blog, in my life, in my interaction with others. First, you treat me like a descent human being, then I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you. PhysioProf does not demonstrate, in any context of which I’m aware, the capacity to treat ANYONE like a fellow human being.

    I have spent enough time dealing with miscreants and assholes that at this point in my life, I simply chose not to do so unless absolutely necessary. And PhsyioProf offers nothing redeeming to balance his or her utterly stupid, juvenile bullshit.

    Orac, my name is Greg Laden. I don’t like being told I’m full of shit in a nasty and condescending way any more than anyone else does. Even when I am full of shit.

    But I, Greg Laden, do ultimately take responsibility for whatever I do and don’t do.

    Who the hell are you and PhsioProf? How dare you call me cowardly!

  14. #14 the real cmf/et al
    March 9, 2008

    So, sciborgs “do not respond well to being slapped around the moment someone comes in the door”?

    Well, that explains why they piss on people who come to their door then, right? Physio, and a few other blogborgs and their minions have a curious habit of plonking, spewing on, disemvoweling, and otherwise crapping on each other, and general commenters who don’t succumb to their often biased, and gender focused squabbling ways.

    Greg, don’t be such a PZ!! The one thing that makes your blog so much more entertaining is exactly your tolerance of commenters who vary from the Minncestuous myopian view of each others rectums that prevails on some of these blogs.

    Physio, and a few others from this little lek in the woods have done their rosypalmed best to insult me, or ridicule my perspective ( and that is no small task), and I just don’t take it personally–but censorship? Sure the guy is acting like a typical douche-drinking *Mincestsotan*, but it makes for fun reading–and works well for the hit counter too!

    Up until now, I loved your anonymous post policy, but most of all *I love your tolerance*, even for F-bomb dropping dustbags like PhysioProf.

    Truth in any form? Where did you get that out of this dialogue? Truth in any form is sometimes necessary to wake people up, or to wade into dialogues that are otherwise circular, and Minncestuous…I feel like I am watching that old movie about the ghouls, where even the good guy becomes one in the end–their are just too many ghouls, and the shotgun is out of shells!!!!
    Poor Greg….

    That being said, yeah, *PhysioProf sure is acting like a pussy*

  15. #15 D
    March 9, 2008

    I know Dr. Buck personally and know that she is a very careful scientist who does not rush to publish and cares more about publishing good science than having hundreds of publications. If you had done a Pubmed search you would see that she is more for quality than quantity. Also, she is not a stupid woman who “didn’t understand the science”. She was very much involved with it and her retraction just reinforces her integrity. Many people would have turned a blind eye to unreproducible data (and I am sure many probably do) and would not have tried to correct the situation. Just because someone tells you that you are incorrectly slandering someone doesn’t mean they are a “troll who should be banned”. You seem very ignorant and narrow-minded if you go around jumping to conclusions and lynching people you know nothing about (based on one brief NY Times article that you seem to not even have fully read and understood) in your little self-centered Blog court. I hope that you lose a lot of readers because of this. I know you lost me as a reader since now I have lost all credibility in what you write.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    March 9, 2008

    The fact that there was a retraction, indicating a high level of integrity, is a very good point. As I said in an earlier comment, I have looked at her pubs (her CV) and they are impressive. She’s probably quite a fine scientist. I’m leaning much more towards the “this paper was a total screw up, wish it had never happened” theory.

    My comments regarding the meaning of the retraction hardly came from the NYT piece, but rather, were inspired by the suggestive blog by PhysProf over at Drug Monkey. It is quite possible that PhysProf was overstating the case on the nature of this retraction. Or perhaps I misunderstood him/her. PhysProf’s style of writing does not lend itself to being clear. He’s more of a shock-blogger.

    I’m very sorry to lose you as a reader. Your welcome to stay or go as you please, of course. I’d rather you stayed.

    It is odd, though, that every single individual who has made a comment here, who steps up in support of Dr. Buck, is an anonymous donor of sanctimonious and aggressively self righteous machination. How do we explain that?

  17. #17 the rail-leaningcmf
    March 10, 2008

    Greg, in all fairness, at least you actually know me a wee bit?
    My comments were directed at an *attitude of sanctity* that prevails amongst some megalomaniacal blowhards who DO use their names, at the expense of their ears–not at you, or necessarily this post/issue.

  18. #18 Linc
    March 15, 2008

    Imagine if Dr. Zou was not caught like many others! Years later, he probably will be the authority in the field. At that time, he would have power to put his name in the paper without taking any responsibility.
    I don’t believe that Dr. Zou and Dr. Buck’s other papers are clean. I don’t believe that there is no misconduct. I don’t believe that Dr. Zou is innocent. I don’t believe Dr. Buck is innocent. Buck likely is the head of the conspiracy. Likely Dr. Zou is just a genuflector to the fallacious ecosystem of bioscience. Due to his bending, he got the reward from the boss.
    However, later on Harvard committee probably will cover all things up for Dr. Buck. To the system, Dr. Zou is dispensable, but not Dr. Buck. Let us watch.

  19. #19 Linc
    March 24, 2008

    I am working in one of the most prestigious institutes in Boston and the world. In the work, I could not be able to recapitulate and develop a major story in the field. I then found out that some of the important data which were published and used by the laboratory to apply for NIH?National Institutes of Health?grants were falsified and fabricated. I presented the evidences and made complaints to the principle investigator of the laboratory and the officials in the institute. However, I was retaliated against for my whistle blowing and was asked to leave my position. I have made research misconduct allegation and retaliation allegation in Office of Research Integrity in US Department of Health and Human Services.

    Unfortunately, ORI only asked the institute set up self-investigation panels for both issues. After my complaining, the institute egregiously engaged in the retaliation and threatening, attempting to intimidate me. If the research misconduct is covered up, millions dollars of taxpayers’ money could be in danger of being wasted, the public health could be in danger of unprotected, and the truth might be buried by the lies. And my scientific life will be ruined.

    Therefore, I am seeking for urgent assistance from anyone who will be able to give me a hand on this matter.

    Your kind assistance and/or information will be highly appreciated by all honest and hard-working scientists.

  20. #20 Linc
    March 31, 2008

    DrugMonkey, thank you for your suggestion. In the allegations, I clearly told ORIatDHHS that the institute was involved in threatening and retaliation. That was the reason an self-investigation panel was inappropriate . No real investigation could be done within the institution.
    I am considering to sue them. But it is really hard for me, a junior scientist, to fight with a famous and rich institute.
    It is unfair!!!!!!!

  21. #21 Linc
    March 31, 2008

    Dear Mr. DrugMonkey,

    In the field I am working, I am only a junior. I feel my voice was largely ignored when I said that I had had evidences that a major theory widely spread in the field were false and its major supporting data were fabricated. At the beginning, I just could not imagine that more than multiple independent laboratories (including the laboratory I was in) would falsify data to support the same fake story. That is why I spent more than three years in trying to recap and develop the story. All my effort was in vain. I was under huge pressure. I thus started to doubt those published data and collected evidences how they falsified and fabricated the papers. However, as soon as I started to make complaints about those research misconducts, I was egregiously threatened and retaliated against for my whistle blowing.
    Hiring a lawyer to fight with an academically and financially rich institute or gang is beyond what I can do. It is the reason that I want to bring these kind things to the light. I hope that I would be able to get supports from hard-working and honest scientists out there. But there are few honest scientists surviving nowadays. How can Zhihua True produce papers as fast as Zhihua False?

    I appreciate Dr. Linda Buck’s courage to retract false data. Based on my own experience, I understand that many don’t have the courage. Those PIs, using those false data, applying for NIH grants, and producing more and more false data. Truth is buried under lies.

    One who committed fabrication or falsification and was accused would argue by chicanery. Those who committed fabrication and falsification and was not accused would support their confederacy. Without impartial arbitration or judge, it is hard to win the case. It is impossible to hire a contingency lawyer in this case. Lawyers can not judge who is right about a novel scientific argument. If they can not judge, they will not provide contingency.

    I really appreciated Dr. Linda Buck’s courage of her retracting her paper.