In July 2015 I was contacted by a concerned reader, asking me to place on PubPeer on his behalf a concern about a suspicious gel image in a 2009 paper by the plant scientist Sauren Das from the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta. The person who contacted me claimed that his attempt to place his comment did not pass moderation by PubPeer. As I had a registered PubPeer account, I succeeded. This excessively spliced gel was what I flagged:
I was harshly criticized by an anonymous commenter, who decreed: “ I’m not sure why you think you are in a position to lecture anyone”.
Now another paper by Das in the same journal, Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants was set to be retracted by the editors, due to similar concerns of image integrity. The decision was made seven months ago, yet nothing happened since, apparently due to the reluctance to retract from the side of the publisher Springer.
This 2013 paper by Das is to be retracted by the decision of the journal’s Editor-in Chief, N. Raghuram, Dean of the GGS Indraprastha University, India, and the associate editor Sheila Macfie, professor for Biological & Geological Sciences at the Western University, Canada. The problematic image, as presented on PubPeer, is:
Earlier communications forwarded to me revealed that the journal’s editors have uncovered data manipulation like:
- “A large grey box that has been superimposed on lane K 1/1 in Panel A, immediatedly above the lowest band” and “another grey patch at the very top of lane BT15/263”
- “In Panel B, lane BT 15/263 looks very similar to lane AV 2. Also in Panel B, lane TTV1 looks very similar to lane HV 39”.
This is what Raghuram wrote to Das on July 31st 2015:
“Dear Dr. Sauren Das,
In view of PMBP’s committment to maintaining the highest standards of ethics and scientific accuracy in the published scientific record, I was compelled to confront you with the charge of manipulation of gel photograph in your paper published in this journal, as alleged on Pubpeer. You were given an opportunity to respond to the charge, and your defence was rejected following our editorial enquiry and you were given one month to reproduce your results with fresh, unmanipulated data, or face retraction of your paper published in PMBP. Your one month time expired on 29-7-2015.
In view of your lack of response to my last mail forwarded below, as well as in view of your lack of interest to defend your own results and your reputation that was challenged on pubpeer, we presume that you cannot reproduce your data, and/or no longer interested to prove your innocence as per your initial response. Either way, PMBP cannot afford to keep its own reputation in suspended animation any longer and is compelled to editorially retract your paper with the following statement of retraction:
Retraction note to the article: “Antioxidants and ROS scavenging ability in ten Darjeeling tea clones may serve as markers for selection of potentially adapted clones against abiotic stress” by Nirjhar Dasgupta, Prosenjit Biswas, Rakesh Kumar, Narendra Kumar, Biswajit Bera, Sauren Das, Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants July 2013, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 421-433
This article has been retracted by the editor on account of falsification/fabrication of data in Figure 3 of the above paper, as the corresponding author failed to defend the charge levelled initially at Pubpeer and validated subsequently through an editorial enquiry at PMBP, and also failed to reproduce fresh results sought by the editor. The employer of the author has been intimated”.
Apparently, nothing has happened since from the side of the publisher Springer. Today, Raghuram wrote to Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva (who originally reported the Pubpeer issue to the editors) and myself in cc:
The query from Pubpeer with copies to Retraction Watch regarding the article of Sauren Das in PMBP is of serious concern. The editorial decision to retract that paper was communicated to Springer on 31st July 2015 after exercising due diligence on the complaint (see copy of the mail below). Another retraction of the article of Mukhtar et al (2012) [Vol. 18(4):381-6, -LS] in PMBP is also pending. I am copying this email to the concerned staff in Springer to look into why there was a delay in the publication of this retraction and to expedite its publication and inform us accordingly”.
I have now contacted Springer as well and will update here if the publisher should provide any explanations for their reluctance to publish the retraction.
I have corrected this article’s title follwoing requests by the EiC Raghuram and Springer, since now it is not at all clear whose oversight or incompetence the delayed retraction was due to. Raghuram refused to answer my questions how he originally communicated his retraction decision to Springer, either by email (to whom) or via publisher software interface. Springer’s senior communications manager, Joan Robinson, followed up the case upon my inquiry and issues this statement:
“The delay in retracting the papers was unfortunately due to a technical oversight. The Springer publishing editor never received the e-mail from editor-in-chief Dr. Raghuram alerting him to the problem in July 2015. Only recently was the issue brought to his attention and he was able to locate the e-mail in his spam filter. He is taking immediate action to have the papers retracted.
There was neither pressure on Springer nor reluctance on the part of Springer to retract the papers. Springer, in order to safeguard the quality of its journal publications, follows the guidelines of the Committee on Publishing Ethics (COPE) and takes its obligation to maintain the integrity of the scientific record seriously”.