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Publisher Springer to retract Sauren Das paper seven months after editorial decision

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:

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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:

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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:

Dear colleagues,

 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.

 

Update 16.03.2016.

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”.

15 comments on “Publisher Springer to retract Sauren Das paper seven months after editorial decision

  1. Plantarum

    It is extremely disconcerting that the retraction notices for two papers that were set to be retracted 8 months ago just “disappeared”. Springer, a COPE member, has plenty of explaining to do.

    The second retraction that the EIC of PMBP is referring to, is:

    Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants October 2012, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 381-386
    Influencing micropropagation in Clitoria ternatea L. through the manipulation of TDZ levels and use of different explant types
    Seemab Mukhtar 1, Naseem Ahmad 1, Md Imran Khan 1, Mohammad Anis 1/2, Ibrahim M. Aref 2
    1. Plant Biotechnology laboratory, Department of Botany, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, 202 002, India
    2. Department of Plant Production, College of Food and Agriculture Sciences, King Saud University, PO Box 2460, Riyadh, 11451, Saudi Arabia
    DOI: 10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3550560/
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/DD7586286AE40608BB1C4C7BA59497

    Like

  2. This is a remarkable state of affairs – surely Springer has a system for retracting papers? What could delay matters once they decide to retract one?

    Like

    • Plantarum

      I would hazzard a guess (think of it as a hypothesis while we wait for the Springer officials to respond). 1) An Indian-run journal. 2) Powerful Indian scientists in 3) leading Indian institutes. In the case of Das, an Indian Government institute that could suffer great shame as a result of this retraction. In the case of Anis, an Indian plant science superhero of sorts in a powerful religious-based academic institute* with many ties to the Indian Government. I would not rule out the influence of power on a publisher’s ethical stance. 8 months is unacceptable. What could explain this except for the politics of science ethics? What would be interesting is if there has been a legal challenge on these retractions to save face…

      http://www.amu.ac.in/
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aligarh_Muslim_University

      Like

  3. Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

    “From: Kapila, Dr. Mamta, Springer IN
    Sent: Wednesday, March 09, 2016 2:49 PM
    To: Wervone Aguilar, Andrew
    Cc: RP Singh; Sheila Macfie; Chua, Marie Veth; Ivan Oransky; Rana Pratap Singh; Adam Marcus; N. Raghuram; Jaime Silva; Leonid Schneider
    Subject: RE: Plagiarism: PMBP retraction query: 2013 Darjeeling tea paper

    Dear Andrew,

    Could you please take this up on your topmost priority and retract the said article with no further delay?

    Thank you!

    Best Regards,

    Mamta”

    “On Wednesday, March 9, 2016 3:58 PM, “Wervone Aguilar, Andrew” [email redacted] wrote:

    Dear Dr. Kapila,

    To proceed with the processing, we need the approval of the journals VP. After which, this will be forwarded to the Quality team for further assessment. The final retraction note should come from them.

    Thank you.

    Sincerely yours,

    Andrew

    (Mr.) Andrew Wervone A. Aguilar
    Springer

    Journals Production

    Springer Nature
    [details redacted]

    http://www.springernature.com

    Springer Nature is one of the world’s leading global research, educational and professional publishers, created in May 2015 through the combination of Nature Publishing Group, Palgrave Macmillan, Macmillan Education and Springer Science+Business Media.”

    “On Thursday, March 10, 2016 12:52 AM, Jaime Silva [email redacted] wrote:

    Dear Andrew and Mamta,

    Thank you for copying the communications to all of us.

    There seems to be some misunderstanding. As already clearly indicated by the senior editor, Prof. Raghuram, who is also a vice president, we are referring to two retractions in PMBP, and not just one.

    These are:
    Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants July 2013, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 421-433
    Antioxidants and ROS scavenging ability in ten Darjeeling tea clones may serve as markers for selection of potentially adapted clones against abiotic stress
    Nirjhar Dasgupta, Prosenjit Biswas, Rakesh Kumar, Narendra Kumar, Biswajit Bera, Sauren Das
    DOI: 10.1007/s12298-013-0187-1
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12298-013-0187-1
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/9543DEAD0C5A57B5EFA7A7D1B26B88

    Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants October 2012, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 381-386
    Influencing micropropagation in Clitoria ternatea L. through the manipulation of TDZ levels and use of different explant types
    Seemab Mukhtar, Naseem Ahmad, Md Imran Khan, Mohammad Anis, Ibrahim M. Aref
    DOI: 10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3550560/
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/DD7586286AE40608BB1C4C7BA59497

    Given your statement, I have taken the opportunity of also copying the other two VPs, Prof. Tripathi and Prof. Bose.

    The plant science community looks forward to seeing these retractions processed, as promised, and also to a formal explanation for the delays.

    Sincerely,

    Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva”

    Like

    • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

      Andrew Wervone Aguilar refers to the “Quality team” that will finally process and approve the retraction notice(s). Why can the public not see who makes up this “Quality team”, so we can assess their professional credentials? Surely, teams that are responsible for such important decisions should be as visible and transparent as editor boards? Otherwise, how does the public hold the publisher accountable?

      Like

    • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

      “On Thursday, March 10, 2016 2:52 PM, “Kapila, Dr. Mamta, Springer IN” wrote:

      Dear Dr. Teixeira da Silva,

      Greetings from Springer!

      First, I would like to apologize for the long delay as I could see the mails only recently; the mails had come in my spam folder and lying unattended.

      As know are well informed of, Springer is a member of COPE and takes cases of plagiarism or violation of publishing ethics very seriously. There is absolute no reluctance on Springer’s part to retract the two-said articles from Springer’s platforms. And, I assure you that it shall be done very soon.

      I have already initiated this and I anticipate to have it done soon.

      Best Regards,

      Mamta”

      Like

    • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

      Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants October 2012, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 381-386
      Influencing micropropagation in Clitoria ternatea L. through the manipulation of TDZ levels and use of different explant types
      Seemab Mukhtar 1, Naseem Ahmad 1, Md Imran Khan 1, Mohammad Anis 1,2, Ibrahim M. Aref 2
      1. Plant Biotechnology laboratory, Department of Botany, Aligarh Muslim University, India
      2. Department of Plant Production, College of Food and Agriculture Sciences, King Saud University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
      DOI: 10.1007/s12298-012-0136-4
      https://pubpeer.com/publications/DD7586286AE40608BB1C4C7BA59497

      Retraction:
      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0352-4
      DOI: 10.1007/s12298-016-0352-4
      “The corresponding author retracts this article due to the erroneous inclusion of Table 3 and Fig. 1C from the previously published article by Mukhtar, S., Anis, M., & Ahmad, N.(2010) titled “In vitro optimization of phytohormones on micropropagation in Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea L.)” in the Journal of herbs, spices & medicinal plants 16:2, 98–105. The authors regret the error due to oversight and thank the anonymous complainant and the editor of PMBP for bringing it to their notice.”
      https://www.pubpeer.com/publications/BE143C87944AB5C99350C7AE49AC2F

      Like

      • Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

        Three more retractions in Springer’s Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants.

        Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants pp 1-11
        First online: 05 March 2016
        Expression of a bacterial chitinase (ChiB) gene enhances resistance against E. polygoni induced powdery mildew disease in the transgenic Black gram (Vigna mungo L.) (cv. T9)
        D. K. Das
        Post Graduate Department of Biotechnology, T. M. Bhagalpur University, Bhagalpur, India
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0344-4
        DOI: 10.1007/s12298-016-0344-4

        Retraction:
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0344-4
        “The editors retract this article published at Online First, due to the author’s unethical inclusion of all the figures and tables, as well as paraphrased text from his previously published research articles listed below:
        1. Das, Dilip Kumar, Mrinalini Bhagat, and Sangeeta Shree. “Agrobacterium Mediated Transformation of Vigna mungo (L.) Hepper with Cry1Ac Gene for Insect Resistance.” American Journal of Plant Sciences 7.02 (2016): 316.
        2. Das, Dilip K., N. Shiva Prakash, and Neera Bhalla-Sarin. “An efficient regeneration system of black gram (Vigna mungo L.) through organogenesis.” Plant Science 134.2 (1998): 199-206.
        3. Das, Dilip K., et al. “Improved method of regeneration of black gram (Vigna mungo L.) through liquid culture.” In Vitro Cellular & Developmental Biology-Plant 38.5 (2002): 456-459.
        4. Das, D. K., and A. Rahman. “Expression of a rice chitinase gene enhances antifungal response in transgenic litchi (cv. Bedana).” Plant Cell, Tissue and Organ Culture (PCTOC) 109.2 (2012): 315-325.
        5. Das, D. K., and A. Rahman. “Expression of a rice chitinase gene (ChiB) enhances antifungal response in transgenic litchi (cv. Bedana).” Current Trends in Biotechnology and Pharmacy 4.3 (2010): 820-833.
        The editors regret that this scientific misconduct escaped the evaluation processes of the journal and thank the complainants and pubpeer for bringing it to their notice. The reviewers of the manuscript and the employer of the author have been alerted of the misconduct.”

        Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants pp 1-8
        First online: 09 February 2016
        Effect of paclobutrazol on photosynthesis and expression of pyrroline-5-carboxylatesynthase in contrasting wheat genotypes under water deficit stress condition
        Sharad Kumar Dwivedi, Santosh Kumar
        Division of Crop Research, ICAR Research complex for Eastern Region, Patna, Bihar, 800 014, India
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0343-5
        DOI: 10.1007/s12298-016-0343-5

        Retraction:
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0343-5
        “The corresponding author retracts this article published at online first due to the unreliability of findings arising out of inappropriate handling of the photograph at the bottom right panel of Fig. 2. The authors regret the inappropriate image and thank the anonymous complainant at Pubpeer and the editor of PMBP for bringing it to their notice.”

        Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants pp 1-6
        First online: 29 January 2016
        Influence of Agrobacterium rhizogenes strains, acitosyringone, inoculum size and temperature on production of active ingredients from Picrorhiza kurrooa
        Janhvi Mishra Rawat, Balwant Rawat, Susmita Mishra, Aakriti Bhandari, Rajneesh K Agnihotri, Anup Chandra
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0341-7
        DOI: 10.1007/s12298-016-0341-7

        Retraction:
        http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12298-016-0341-7
        “The corresponding author withdraws/retracts this article due to the mistaken inclusion of Fig. 1b from our previously 2011 paper in Acta Physiologiae Plantarum entitled “Hairy root culture of Picrorhiza kurrooa Royle ex Benth.: a promising approach for the production of picrotin and picrotoxinin”. The authors accept the mistake and thank the anonymous complainant and the editor of PMBP for bringing it to their notice.”

        Like

  4. Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva

    Another two Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants papers being questioned at PubPeer. The authors and editors have been formally contacted today. Will update as the case progresses.

    Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants
    April 2013, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 251-260
    In vitro clonal propagation and genetic fidelity of the regenerants of Spilanthes calva DC. using RAPD and ISSR marker
    Mohd. Razaq, Monika Heikrujam, Siva K. Chetri, Veena Agrawal
    Department of Botany, University of Delhi, Delhi, 110007, India
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24431493
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3656186/
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12298-012-0152-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s12298-012-0152-4
    PMID: 24431493
    PMCID: PMC3656186

    Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants
    October 2014, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 517-526
    Micropropagation and validation of genetic and biochemical fidelity amongst regenerants of Cassia angustifolia Vahl employing RAPD marker and HPLC
    Siva K. Chetri, Pratima Rani Sardar, Veena Agrawal
    Department of Botany, University of Delhi, Delhi, 110007, India
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25320475
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4185055/
    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12298-014-0257-z
    DOI: 10.1007/s12298-014-0257-z
    PMID: 25320475
    PMCID: PMC4185055

    Spilanthes 2013:
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/EDB5AB063FCEF7910C501B737D2CFF
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/24431493

    Cassia 2014:
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/05729B4AAC5F81445C083DC4C3E8A2

    Relevant figures:

    Like

  5. Plantarum

    The Sauren Das paper has now been finally retracted:

    “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.”

    http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12298-013-0187-1

    Like

  6. Pingback: Plant biologist’s paper pulled for falsification, three more questioned on PubPeer - Retraction Watch at Retraction Watch

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