“The authors of an article on the antidepressant effects of ketamine have withdrawn their article for lack of reproducibility, but readers have no way of knowing because the magazine refused to say so much in the notice of retraction.
If this sounds like a story from the pages of Journal of Neurosciences, this is so. Over the years, we’ve taken the magazine to work for its unfortunate notifications of retraction, which seem to take the default position of saying absolutely nothing, even to cases where readers have a good cause be skeptical of the findings.
This time, however, the editor-in-chief told us that the notice should have said more, but that it “slipped through the cracks.”
As we have reported, the magazine has one politics to allow retractions initiated by the author for almost any reason that is not suspected of misconduct (literally: “unless it is in the process of being reviewed for a possible SfN infringement Guidelines for responsible behavior in scientific communicationThis is a slight improvement over his previous policy of allowing retractions initiated by the author for any reason and which the then editor John Maunsell explained to us, in an unsatisfactory way. 2011 interview:
The journal will withdraw an article at the request of the authors at any time without explanation. At the decision of the authors, the notice of withdrawal may simply indicate that the article has been withdrawn at the request of the authors. Alternatively, the authors can provide a brief explanation of the errors that led to the withdrawal. However, retraction statements may not attribute blame to specific authors or laboratories.
However, allowing researchers to say “nothing to do here” is a surefire way to undo the advertising of many misbehaving inquiries before they begin.
And politics is, of course, bad. Since December 2012, we have recorded 18 retractions in the journal, not including the most recent article. At least three of the actions of the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. For these three articles, this, this i this – Withdrawal notices say … nothing.
The latest withdrawal corresponds to an article entitled “The Sustained Antidepressant Effects of Ketamine Are Independent of Lateral Abenula,” which was written by a group of anesthesiologists at the first affiliated hospital of Nanjing Medical University and the Faculty of Medicine, Zhejiang University, China.
In accordance with the notice – which appears in the same number in which the printed article appeared:
At the request of the authors, The Journal of Neuroscience retracts “The sustained antidepressant effects of ketamine are independent of the lateral habenula,” by Xuelong Zhou, Chenjing Zhang, Jiamin Miao, Ziyang Chen, Hongquan Dong, and Cunming Liu. pages 4131–4140 of this issue.
Marina Picciotto, the editor-in-chief of the magazine, told us that initially the day had been appeared online – where, we will see, the article still costs $ 35 to access and does not yet say that it has been withdrawn:
The corresponding author contacted us after posting the article online and said he could not reproduce a key finding and asked him to withdraw. In such cases, we respect the request of the authors. Unfortunately, the item had to be assigned to a problem before it could be removed.
Fairly enough, we asked Picciotto, but why not claim that the authors could not reproduce his work? Wouldn’t that be useful information for other researchers if the authors published a similar article in a different journal?
For his merit, Picciotto said, the blame here was his:
I have to own it: I thought we would include this information and not follow it. Given the unprecedented nature of the post and the immediate retraction, it slipped through the cracks as we worked through the process.
Xuelong Zhou, one of the two corresponding authors of the paper, told us that:
An outcome of the work was not uncertain due to misuse of an experimental reagent, so we asked the journal to withdraw our work. As the document was already accepted, the withdrawal was filed in the same issue as the publication of the article itself.
Zhou also said that he hoped we would not write about the retreat and that he hoped to be able to understand it.
Not really. What we understand is that these requests for silence on public retractions are precisely why journals should be less concerned with protecting authors from control and devoting themselves more to transparency in the interests of their readers.