“At a Keystone Symposia meeting a couple of years ago, Pamela Ronald delivered the most difficult talk of her life. She studies plant immunology at the University of California, Davis, but instead of discussing her group’s latest findings, she decided to detail its recent mistake: while performing routine validation assays, students in her lab had found that one of the lab’s bacterial strains was mislabeled. They also discovered that a protein assay they had used was not reliable. That meant that her conclusions in two papers she’d published in 2011 and 2009 about the identity of a long-sought bacterial protein recognized by the rice immune system were likely wrong.
“Never had I heard anyone give a talk like that,” she says. But she felt compelled to use the platform to let her peers know about the error. Audible gasps arose from the crowd. At one point, someone in the audience covered his face with his hands and shook his head, she recalls. “I’ll never forget it.”
Ultimately, Ronald retracted both papers, one from PLOS ONE and another from Science. As word got around about how forthcoming she was—in her talk at the conference and in alerting the journals to the problems—she began to receive pats on the back. The blog Retraction Watch applauded Ronald for “doing the right thing,” and researchers echoed the sentiment, saying it must have been a tough decision. “On the one hand I was really very flattered I got that reaction from people, but [I was] also a little bit puzzled,” Ronald says. “I never thought there was a choice.””
Tags: science publishing, retraction, publishing, literature, culture and corrections
Grens K (2015) Self Correction: What to do when you realize your publication is fatally flawed. The Scientist. 29(12) Available from: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/44594/title/Self-Correction/ (Accessed 19 February 2016).