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Stem Cell Research Paper Recalled 112

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the making-the-grade dept.
MattSparkes writes "One of the best-known stem cell papers describes adult cells that seemed to hold the same promise as embryonic stem cells. Now some of the data contained within the paper is being questioned, after staff at a consumer science magazine noticed errors. It shows how even peer-reviewed papers can sometimes 'slip through the net' and get to publication with inaccurate data."
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Stem Cell Research Paper Recalled

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  • indeed. (Score:5, Funny)

    by President_Camacho (1063384) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:22PM (#18032692) Homepage
    Stem Cell Research Paper Recalled

    Yes, I remember it quite vividly myself.
  • by CyberGenesis (1064776) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:25PM (#18032734)
    "It shows how even peer-reviewed papers can sometimes 'slip through the net' and get to publication with inaccurate data." Perhaps this is a phenomena Slashdot should take note of?
    • I'm boggled there's a published popular print medium that has employed on staff someone who could spot that.

      I'm hoping it wasn't the doctor from India who does the floors at night.

  • No shit sherlock. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Watson Ladd (955755) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:29PM (#18032768)
    Peer review isn't about the accuracy of the data. It's about how the data supports the conclusions and whether the paper is notable enough for the journal. Peer reviewers don't have the time and money to duplicate every experiment they review.
    • Of course (Score:5, Interesting)

      by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking@ ... om minus painter> on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:36PM (#18032848) Homepage Journal

      Anyone who's read a significant number of journal articles has spotted some huge errors that somehow got published. I know of one paper (not naming any names!) where in explaining how a calculation was done it had the line: 18-7=9. Clearly (from context) the line meant to say 17-8=9, but I found it humorous that such a fundamental error got past both the original authors proof-reading and the peer-review process. These things go back and forth a couple times, usually.

      Peer review isn't a perfect process. It just helps reduce the noise-to-signal ratio.

      • by Flavio (12072)
        What kind of journal publishes arithmetic?

        To me, the fact that they wasted space printing 18-7=9 is more shocking than the actual error.
        • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

          by malsdavis (542216) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @08:14PM (#18033292)
          Lots of journal articles have simplistic calculations here and there. The point of showing such calculations isn't to prove that the author is capable of performing 3rd grade maths, its so that the reader knows where number X came from. IMHO It is probably the most frustrating thing when papers / books / lecture notes just present numbers and presumes the reader realises where they were derived from.
      • I read an paper by a colleague last week in a reputable Elsevier journal. The text referred you to Table 1. There was a Table 1 in the paper, but it wasn't the Table 1 being referred to, which was missing entirely. Doh!
      • Like missing or mislabeled tables, this error might not have been in the draft(s) seen by the peer reviewers but might, instead, have been introduced later in final edits meant to clear up minor grammatical errors, etc. Peer reviewers are not copy editors.

        Dean
        • In this case I've actually worked with both authors, and when I mentioned it (I read it shortly after it came out), the author who wrote that bit realized that the error was in the original. You are correct that errors are often introduced during the editing stage (as you add minor points to please the peer reviewers, etc.), but it wasn't true in this case. As for peer reviewers not being copy editors, you are absolutely correct, but with so many eyes on the paper, you would have thought that someone would
      • by radtea (464814)
        I found it humorous that such a fundamental error got past both the original authors proof-reading and the peer-review process.

        It's less humorous when it happens to you. It's never happened to me, but a colleague was once in quite a state when an article was published that he was lead author on and figures 2 and 3 were identical. Both were the original figure 2. It had happened in the original MS--somehow the same graph was included twice. The caption was right, the discussion in the text was right, bu
    • The true test of a PhD is how convincingly s/he can make the data, no matter what it is, say whatever s/he wants it to say.
      • by Dunbal (464142) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @09:01PM (#18033722)
        The true test of a PhD is how convincingly s/he can put off makeing up the data, no matter what it is

              There, fixed it for you.
        • by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @09:55PM (#18034152) Homepage
          The true test of a PhD is how convincingly s/he can put off making up the data, no matter what it is

          You have failed peer review.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by i kan reed (749298)
            Holy crap, I never thought of it that way, but slashdot really does support a kind of peer review, and all the comments people make about it supporting "groupthink" and such can easily be extrapolated to scientific review.

            I'm not sure if that's a defence of slashdot's moderation/threading system, or if it's an attack on science as it stands today.
            • by zCyl (14362)

              and all the comments people make about it supporting "groupthink" and such can easily be extrapolated to scientific review.

              Uh yeah, definitely.

              I'm not sure if that's a defence of slashdot's moderation/threading system, or if it's an attack on science as it stands today.

              Peer review is what it is, review by peers. The problem only shows up when people start acting like peer review is a stamp of authenticity or correctness, when in reality it is neither and can be neither.

        • by ne0n (884282)

          The true test of a PhD is how convincingly s/he can put off makeing up the data, no matter what it is

          There, fixed it for you.
          You get bonus points for plagiarizing Alan Sokal's "Hermeneutics" paper :)
      • I remember a great article in the British Medical Journal about a randomized, double-blinded crossover study using placebos, where the investigators tested the effectiveness of parachutes on statisticians. Needless to say it was a roaring success.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Amen to that. I've peer reviewed papers, and for most part you end up trusting the authors. It's not like the reviewer can rerun the experiments or inspect the raw data.

      Much of peer review involves checking the form, rather than the substance, of the paper. Does the paper follow proper protocal? Is it clearly written? Are the references complete and correct? Should it be shortened or added to?

      The substance of the paper also comes into it, of course, but the reviewer is very limited as to what he or sh
      • by Teresita (982888)
        Amen to that. I've peer reviewed papers, and for most part you end up trusting the authors. It's not like the reviewer can rerun the experiments or inspect the raw data.

        Gosh, that reminds me of a scene in the original five-book Foundation Trilogy: "...Why not go to Arcturus and study the remains for yourself?" Lord Dorwin raised his eyebrows and took a pinch of snuff hurriedly. "Why, whatevah foah, my deah fellow?" "To get the information firsthand, of course." "But wheahs the necessity? It seems an
        • Peer review is not research. Was Asimov really conflating the two? Also, is his dialog really that bad? Please tell me that is not a direct quote, despite the quotation marks!

          Dean
          • by KDR_11k (778916)
            The character (some kind of self-important noble) speaks in a way that he thinks makes him look intelligent. The scene shows the state of the Empire and why it's stagnating and collapsing, I don't think it's meant to criticise the present.
        • I stand corrected. The reviewer could rerun the experiments if he or she had the same time and resources as the author of the paper. Which, of course, he or she never does. Generally a reviewer is a very busy person who can dedicate at most a few days to the task.

          You should, perhaps, try peer reviewing a paper yourself to understand the position reviewers are in, and what peer review means in practice.
      • I agree wholeheartedly. The last paper I reviewed actually worked out very well because I was very familiar with the subject matter already. I knew that their method was sound, but I could identify spots that needed clarification for others and pointed out some other related works. Many times you do have to trust the author though.
    • by jmv (93421)
      Thanks. This is something that's forgotten way too often. I'd add that in general when reviewing a paper, reviewers must make the basic assumption that the author is acting in good faith. When that assumption is violated, then there isn't much the reviewers can do and it's usually up to the scientific organisation (and community) to take actions.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by imkonen (580619)
      "Peer review isn't about the accuracy of the data. It's about how the data supports the conclusions and whether the paper is notable enough for the journal."

      You beat me to it. A lot of journals only use 1 or 2 reviewers. 3 is the most I've ever heard of. Reviewers are neither paid for their work nor given a lot of time to do it, so some really just phone it in. Even the more thorough ones: we're talking essentially 3 chances to find a mistake. I've rievewed papers and if I notice a mistake I'll certa

  • by CapsaicinBoy (208973) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:33PM (#18032816)
    This is exactly how the system is *supposed* to work. Dr. Verfaillie publishes her team's findings, and others try to replicate it. If they can, the original finding is supported. If not, the failure to replicate usually leads to other insights. My old boss was usually more excited when an experiment failed than when it worked, because was what led to breakthroughs instead of mere confirmation.

    Yes, the process can take time, and god forbid you were the poor grad student that spend 3 years heading down a blind alley, but this episode just reaffirms that overall, the process works.

    • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:42PM (#18032936)
      Not only that, but it also demonstrates the danger of pulling out a single paper as being the last word on a particular topic. Unless you are damn sure that lots of people have gone over it and done some in-depth verification on it, it's better to wait for confirmation than to take it at face value.

      This is how scientific consensus is important. In a "yup, I checked it, I got the same thing" way, not in a let's-vote-like-we're-voting-for-congress way.
    • by fermion (181285) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @09:05PM (#18033764) Homepage Journal
      Another point is that any paper should be extremely suspect until duplicated. For an average person, scientific papers are often misinterpreted as declaration for on high. The high level results are reported without any indication of process. For a scientist, the opposite seems true. These papers are read for the process, In fact I would wager that the ability for a person skilled in the craft to reproduce the process from the paper is likely a more important criteria than the "truth" of the conclusions.

      This difference in priorities is what causes such a disconnect between the science and non science communities, and in fact is one of the greatest challenges in teaching science. The public or the students wants to simply know "the answer", whereas the scientist is more concerned with how the answer was realized, and with which other problems such a process might help. it is also the argument between science and some fundamentalist religious folks. The later are say "god is the answer", the former is saying "science is the solution", neither necessarily talking about the same thing, but niether cognizant enough of the differences to intelligently diffuse the debate.

    • For a very illuminating read on this whole business, have a look at "Fabulous Science" by John Waller. Even illustious organisations such as the Royal Society - set up for goal of providing peer review - have been conned or biased (political correctness, partiotism, religious beleifs...). Even Nobel prizes have been awarded for massaged experiments.
    • by bob frost (850405)
      In practice, few scientists actually try to replicate each others' experiments, as the time/expense involved in reinventing the wheel is formidable and it offers little new knowledge. That end of a review is usually covered by reputation and trust (and the assumption that if the data has been faked, one's reputation is destroyed). As most reviewers are presumably quite familiar with the knowledge domain in question, they know pretty well what the data should look like. Of course, if a later researcher canno
  • by Ra Zen (924419) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:34PM (#18032820)
    Stem cells are a hot topic, so people are willing to publish sloppy research or even fake date (remember Dr Hwang Woo-suk) just to get published fast and first. The same turns out to be true with other hot topics like flu research, where claims that the 1918 flu pandemic was of avian origin are severely overblown (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v440/n7088/f ull/nature04824.html; a free version is here: http://www.amherst.edu/~mhood/pubs.htm [amherst.edu]). Most scientifc research is solid, and most review processes work, but publications like Science and Nature often publish articles based on how sexy they are and can curtail the review process if they think the story will be a hit. Most other journals keep things steady and have very solid review proceedures.
    • Let's not forget that there is also a big push from the right to publish anything that will make adult stem cells seem as promising as fetal stem cells. The fact that this paper is recalled will not deter stem detractors. The mainstay of scientific luddites is always old, discredited studies that they keep propogating regardless of how many times they've been told that it is wrong. You get exactly the same garbage from anti-evolutionists and the anti global warming crowd.
      • by Ra Zen (924419)
        Too true. There is an intersection between culture and science that can make for very persitant bad ideas.
      • Oddly enough, MAPCs made a very poor argument for the use of adult stem cells, as (if true) they replicate the biggest problem of embryonic ones. The whole "can make any cell" thing, which so many researchers seem to obsess on, is of dubious benefit.

        The biggest argument for adult stem cells is that the differention is a good thing. EG, you really don't want cells that might decide to make tooth or bone when you're trying to repair a nerve.
  • Not quite. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Assassin bug (835070) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:38PM (#18032878) Journal
    The title for this post is misleading. The paper has not been recalled. Some of the data are in despute and it reads as though there will be some corrections posted by Nature. But if you had read the paper to the end you would have noticed that Nature is still deciding on the paper. Oh, and might New Scientist have anything to gain by overhyping a technical error in a Nature paper... hmmm?
  • What appears to be described in the article could not have been discovered by the peer reviewers since they were being reviewed at roughly the same time. Similarly it is insane to expect anyone to read and remember every graph from all the papers published in any given field. In my field there are at least 50 a day, I would do nothing but read papers if I was going to be familiar with them all.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:39PM (#18032892)
    Prof. Farnsworth: Is it true that stem cells may fight the aging process?
    Stem Cell Clinic Worker: Well, yes, in the same way that an infant may fight Muhammad Ali, but....
    Prof. Farnsworth: (slapping down $300 Tricky Dick Fun Bill) One pound of stem cells, please!
    (Prof. Farnsworth begins slathering the stem cells all over his face.)
    Stem Cell Clinic Worker: Of course, any age-reversing effects will be purely temporary--euuugh!

  • by seriv (698799) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:40PM (#18032894)
    It's kind of obvious, but popular science journals such as Nature (where this paper was published) and Science will publish what will sell issues. Its not always about the quality of the science. If a paper has shock value but has clear problems, these journals will publish it anyway in many cases. Peer review doesn't enter into the process as much as one would think when a topic is hot. It is just like crazy extremists who get all sorts of publicity for saying something outrageous.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 15, 2007 @08:41PM (#18033546)
      I think the word you were looking for is prestigious science journals. Nature and Science are the ultimate targets for many fields; a publication in either of these journals can drastically increase one's scientific reputation, which is everything in academia. Popular science denotes a magazine targeted to those not involved in the field, such as Scientific American. Science and Nature depend on their reputation as premier journals for revenue; the people who subscribe to Science and Nature do not do so because their articles contain shock value, but because their articles are thorough, novel, and relevant. When do you think the last time someone wandered past a Nature on the magazine stand and thought, "Wow, this article on the molecular markers of HSCs and their potential pluripotency shocks me; I have to buy it!" Do magazine stands even carry Nature?

      There is certainly a bias in both Nature and Science towards novel, groundbreaking research, along with an emphasis on sexy (nanotechnology and stem cells are very hot right now, so the threshold to publish these papers has dropped). This does not have anything to do with the quality of science in the papers that are published - I challenge you to find an article in either Nature or Science that has "clear problems" in the science presented.

      As someone mentioned previously, peer-review checks for a correlation between the conclusions and the data they are drawn from; it is not meant to verify results prior to publication. You, sir, are talking out of your ass.
      • Wow. Great post. You hit it right on the head.

        Too bad you are an AC that probably will never get enough mod points for this to see the light of day. :(
      • The big time multi-disciplinary journals such as Science and Nature really are some of the most well respected journals in many fields. These are journals we're talking about here, not newsstand rags. They have very high standards for submissions and target an audience of scientists, even though they tend to gravitate toward more popular topics.
      • How could the parent post be moderated -1 overrated down to -1 from 0? It was right on target. Was the moderator a sock puppet for the GP?

        Nature and Science are not popular rags.

        Dean
      • by seriv (698799)

        There is certainly a bias in both Nature and Science towards novel, groundbreaking research, along with an emphasis on sexy (nanotechnology and stem cells are very hot right now, so the threshold to publish these papers has dropped). This does not have anything to do with the quality of science in the papers that are published - I challenge you to find an article in either Nature or Science that has "clear problems" in the science presented.

        Challenge accepted.

        No. Nature and Science and not sold on newsstands. Both journals cost a fair amount and are usually only purchased by libraries and members of the scientific community. I called them popular, because they are read by members of all scientific disciplines and are widely known. Anyways, the majority of papers that these journals publish are some of the best works in science. If a scientist has only a few papers published in either journal in their career, they will have done well. I am

        • I think you're right on, and a big part of the problem is that Nature and Science are skewed towards "anticipated science", vs. novel science. In order to be hot, a topic must be widely known and followed, and most people in the field know what the next logical steps will be. Stem cells and fusion are great examples. Chromatin modification and remodeling has been another one for the past few years. Everyone knows that certain advances in these fields will be Nature-material, and everyone knows what the adva
    • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

      by abigor (540274)
      My god, why is this modded up? Nature and Science are exactly the opposite to what this guy (who clearly has no familiarity with the subject) is talking about.
    • Journals like Nature and Science get by mainly on advertisements, subscriptions to institutions, and to a lesser extent on subscriptions to individual scientists. It isn't like they are trying to publish sensational news stories so people will rush out to the newstands to buy the latest issue (it's actual quite difficult to even find these journals unless you have a subscription). The reason everyone wants to publish in Nature and Science is because Nature and Science publish only the best research. Ther
    • For the love of God, please mod parent down...
  • not just "sometimes" (Score:3, Informative)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @07:49PM (#18033028)

    It shows how even peer-reviewed papers can sometimes 'slip through the net' and get to publication with inaccurate data."

    How about the misandry-filled assertations about how women use more words than men, have brains more "wired" for communication, etc? Turns out that everyone's been quoting each other and nobody can even stick to facts interview to interview [boston.com].

    What's appalling is that the author, Dr. Brizendine, not only holds a top academic position, but also has a best selling book that is full of "facts" that are complete fabrications.

    • How about the misandry-filled assertations about how women use more words than men, have brains more "wired" for communication, etc?


      What you say are true. Man use just many words as woman. Me go watch football now.

  • So this means... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    not very much apparently. The author of the paper has tried to fix the inacuracies, but it seems from the article that the author still has evidence that adult stem cells are just as viable as embryonic stem cells.

    I really hope they can advance this area of study, I would hate to think that we use human embryos to solve other human's problems just because it was harder to do it with adult stem cells.
    • by Azathfeld (725855)
      Human embryos aren't "humans" any more than my fingernail clippings are humans, or an egg is a chicken.

      Yes, yes, I know that your beliefs ask that we not destroy viable embryos. That's fine, I'm just responding to your misuse of language.
  • by StikyPad (445176) on Thursday February 15, 2007 @08:10PM (#18033258) Homepage
    ...when it was learned that it contains small parts, not suitable for children under three.
  • There are so many comments on the nature of peer review. Let's call a spade a spade. From the lazy reviewer (jeez my review has 12 major flaws the oter reviewer corrected 3 misspelled words) to the one who knows nothing about the topic to the "trickle down review" where the chair gives it to a fellow to do -- here are what I see as the basic flaw of the peer review system! http://docinthemachine.com/2007/02/15/flawedpeers/ [docinthemachine.com]
  • This is unexpected? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rakishi (759894) on Friday February 16, 2007 @01:31AM (#18035494)
    I'm a Stats major and professors enjoy once in a while talking about the bad stats they've seen in published papers. One such paper, in a journal that was a described as "if it publishes your paper you're nearly guaranteed tenure in the field," used statistical methods that were inherently flawed (it downright failed on simple examples).

    Another one published in a prestigious journal and with a few million in government backing found 100+ genes that were significantly linked to cancer. The statistics was the type that anyone who has taken even a couple courses could find flaws in. So someone redid the analysis and found ~8 such genes at best and possibly fewer. Due to the profile of this one the proper analysis is being done as a follow-up with the original researchers help (otherwise the flaws would have been much harder to identify).

    So yeah, published papers can and do have flaws but they usually they get caught after a while, the point of publishing in some ways. At the same time more researchers should release their data so it can be verified more accurately (this has its own problems as if too many people run too many methods on the same data there will be spurious results of one sort or another).
  • I am very hesitant about taking the word of a science journal at face value in a matter like this one. (Or any other for that matter, but in this particular instance prudence must be quadrupled.)

    There is just WAY too much money invested in the current trajectory of the Cancer/Stem-cell research and medicine behemoth to let some upstart new ideas about curing people easily get in the way of the billions of dollars currently flowing.

    Remember how Exon Mobile has been deliberately muddying the waters with regar

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