Controversial paper on life-extending buckyballs corrected after blog readers note problems
Back in April, a group of French and Tunisian researchers published a paper in Biomaterials which came to the astonishing conclusion that buckyballs
(carbon tetrachloride) coated in olive oil could dramatically extend the lives of lab rodents. That news was picked up by Derek Lowe’s In the Pipeline blog, on which he expressed some bemusement about the work but ultimately praised it:
These are reasonable (but unproven) hypotheses, and I very much look forward to seeing this work followed up to see some more light shed on them. The whole life-extension result needs to be confirmed as well, and in other species. I congratulate the authors of this work, though, for giving me the most number of raised eyebrows I’ve had while reading a scientific paper in quite some time.
One of those eyebrows dropped a bit the following day, when Lowe reported that readers had pointed him to a clear case of image duplication in the article. At the time, Lowe concluded:
This is, at the very least, very sloppy work, on both the part of the authors and the editorial staff at Biomaterials. I didn’t catch this one myself, true – but I wasn’t asked to review the paper, either, and I can assure you that I spend more time critically studying the figures in a paper under review than one I’m writing a quick blog entry about. Under normal reading conditions, most of us don’t look at histology slides in a paper while constantly asking ourselves “Is this right? Or is this just a duplicate of another image that’s supposed to be something else?”
And while this image duplication does not directly bear on the most surprising and interesting results of the paper – life extension in rodents – it does not inspire confidence in those results, either. I’m emailing the editorial staff at Biomaterials and the corresponding author of the paper with this blog entry. We’ll see what happens.
Well, now we know. The journal has issued a correction for the article, which addresses not just the histology but another image, as well.
Subsequent to publication of this paper online the authors have realized that there were errors in two figures, Figures 3 and 4. The correct figures are given below. The authors apologize to readers for these errors.
Here are the images:
That’s followed by an editor’s note, which states:
It should be noted that one of these errors, referring to the inadvertent duplication of the same image within two panels of Fig 4, was pointed out to the Editor-in-Chief by several readers. The authors contacted the Editor-in-Chief with an explanation of this error and an error in Figure 3 before he requested an explanation from the authors. This paper draws conclusions that appear counter-intuitive. The Editor-in-Chief received two very detailed reports from referees who indicated that the methodology appeared sound and they both recommended acceptance after some revision. Neither referee nor the Editor-in-Chief noticed either error, and the revised paper was published. Due consideration has been given to the potential effect of these errors on the overall results and conclusions drawn, and so it has been decided the conclusions are still valid. The authors have provided explanations of how the errors were made during the preparation of graphics and images.
Hat tips: Marco de Weert, Tim Smith