Malaysiakini News

Report: Mix-up in UM lab sees two papers retracted, five to be corrected

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Academic journal publisher Hindawi has retracted two papers and plans to correct five more, all of which originated from a Universiti Malaya lab.

US-based blog Retraction Watch reported that the retraction had to be made due to a “high level of disorganisation” in experiments carried out for the papers published in 2013 and 2014.

An investigation by the university reportedly found no misconduct, but instead attributed the cause of the incident to a mix-up of data collected from different experiments.

According to the blog report yesterday, an overlap occurred between the two papers, as each was studying the effect of a different plant on liver damage.

The publisher’s retraction notice said that authors had conducted animal tests using both plants at the same time, collecting animal tissue samples using one kit and protocol “to save time and cut costs.”

“An institutional investigation by UM found that there was no system to index and file data and images to avoid mislabelling and mishandling, which led to errors and duplication of research data. The authors did not thoroughly check the manuscript before submission.

“The authors said that to save time, animal experiments were conducted on both plants at the same time and to cut costs, immunohistochemistry staining was performed at the same time on the liver tissues collected from all animals of both experiments using one kit and one protocol.

“In addition, the results of both experiments were very close and so they mixed up images between the two experiments,” read one retraction notice.

There was a similar retraction notice for the second paper, which added “The authors offered to provide replacement figures, but the editorial board recommended retraction”.

The two retracted papers are titled "PASS-predicted hepatoprotective activity of Caesalpinia sappan in thioacetamide-induced liver fibrosis in rats" published in 2014, and the 2013 paper "Mechanism of hepatoprotective effect of Boesenbergia rotunda in thioacetamide-induced liver damage in rats".

They were published in The Scientific World Journal and the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine respectively.

Not the first time

Both papers reportedly came from a lab run by Mahmood Ameen Abdulla who was working at the university’s Biomedical Science Department at the time.

It is unclear whether Mahmood still works for the university. Malaysiakini has contacted UM for a response.

The blog Retraction Watch is an initiative by US-based non-profit group Centre for Scientific Integrity, and is run by a group of scientists and science writers.

The article quoted Hindawi saying that it decided to take a second look at Mahmood’s work after concerns were raised about his previous work, including a paper published in Scientific Reports that had been corrected for mistaken duplications.

Hindawi’s head of research integrity, Matt Hodgkinson, reportedly told the blog that after it had spotted problems, it contacted UM.

The university then conducted an investigation and concluded that it was due to an error rather than deliberate misconduct.

“This level of disorganisation is not typical and the institution told us they have since advised these researchers about record keeping and data/image management,” he was quoted as saying.

The five papers to be corrected were not named by the report.

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