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Self-Plagiarism Concerns Lead to Retraction of Two Papers

Nicholette Zeliadt, Ph.D.

Two research papers from Harvard researchers have been retracted because of duplicate publication concerns.

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Two separate research papers from a team of Harvard researchers have been retracted due to duplicate publication of data. The studies were led by Hava Karsenty Avraham, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Both papers describe how lipid-signaling molecules—called endocannabinoids—act through cannabinoid receptors to play a role in trafficking hematopoietic stem cells from the bone marrow into general circulation. The first was published 12 November 2010 in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) and was “withdrawn by the authors” on 31 May 2011 without further explanation. The journal’s director of publications, Nancy Rodnan, declined to comment on the matter, citing confidentiality.

Two separate research papers from a team of Harvard researchers have been retracted due to duplicate publication of data. Source: Blood

The second paper was published 20 January 2011 in the journal Blood and then retracted on 24 June 2011. According to the journal’s retraction notice, the two papers had “multiple instances of duplicate (redundant) publication of data, text, and images that are nonessential to the paper.” Blood editor-in-chief Cynthia Dunbar did not respond to a request for more information on the incident.

Although published less than 1 year ago, both papers have been cited several times; according to Google Scholar, the Blood paper has been cited six times and the JBC paper three times.

Bonnie N. Dittel, a Senior Investigator at BloodCenter of Wisconsin, authored a review paper that cited the retracted Blood paper. Dittel’s article was published online by Immunologic Research on 29 May 2011, just days before the first retraction occurred.

According to Dittel, the basic concept reported in both papers—namely, that cannabinoid signaling regulates cell migration and has been shown to play a role in retention of immature B cells in the bone marrow—was already known from previous studies published by other researchers. What Avraham’s group reported in Blood and JBC was that this signaling system functions on a cell type that had not been previously studied.

“I think what tripped them up is that Table 1 is identical in both papers. You’re not allowed to publish the same data more than once, because that’s basically copyright infringement,” Dittel said. “It’s considered scientific misconduct.”

In cases of duplicate or redundant publication, it is common for the second published paper, where the duplicated data was published, to be retracted. But in this case, Dittel speculated that the decision to retract both papers resulted from a decision by the authors, their institution, and/or the journals to act conservatively until further investigation into the matter could be completed.

Neither Avraham nor the first authors of the papers could be reached for comment. Harvard Medical School’s director of external relations, David Cameron, provided BioTechniques with a statement issued by Harvard Medical School that reiterated the confidential nature of the matter and suggested that the university was reviewing the matter.