Two Swedish scientists have been found guilty of “misconduct in research”

Marine biologist Oona Lönnstedt and limnologist Peter Eklöv at Uppsala University have been found guilty of “misconduct in research”. The misconduct is related to their work which was published in Science on 3 June 2016 [1]. In this work, the author ssuggested that tiny particles of plastic in the ocean harm fish.

A decision have been made on 7 December by the Board for Investigation of Misconduct in Research at Uppsala University which was established by Professor Eva Åkesson, the university’s vice-chancellor.

In December 1st, 2016, Science published an Editorial expression of concern following a notification from the authors regarding an issue of data theft :

“In the 3 June issue, Science published the Report “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology” by Oona M. Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv (1). The authors have notified Science of the theft of the computer on which the raw data for the paper were stored. These data were not backed up on any other device nor deposited in an appropriate repository. Science is publishing this Editorial Expression of Concern to alert our readers to the fact that no further data can be made available, beyond those already presented in the paper and its supplement, to enable readers to understand, assess, reproduce, or extend the conclusions of the paper [2].

“After an investigation, the Central Ethical Review Board in Sweden has recommended the retraction of the Report “Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology,” by Oona M. Lönnstedt and Peter Eklöv, published in Science on 3 June 2016 (1). Science ran an Editorial Expression of Concern regarding the Report on 1 December 2016 (2). The Review Board’s report, dated 21 April 2017, cited the following reasons for their recommendation: (i) lack of ethical approval for the experiments; (ii) absence of original data for the experiments reported in the paper; (iii) widespread lack of clarity concerning how the experiments were conducted. Although the authors have told Science that they disagree with elements of the Board’s report, and although Uppsala University has not yet concluded its own investigation, the weight of evidence is that the paper should now be retracted. In light of the Board’s recommendation and a 28 April 2017 request from the authors to retract the paper, Science is retracting the paper in full.” [3]

At the time of this retraction, Uppsala University has not yet concluded its own investigation but a decision was made on 7 December by the Board for Investigation of Misconduct of this university. The Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT), a regional daily newspaper published in Uppsala, published the results of this investigation.

“Eklöv, who was Lönnstedt’s superviser and co-author, failed to check that the research was carried out as described, the board says. However, by the rules in force at Uppsala at the time of the work, which required that misconduct findings apply only to intentional acts, the board said that Eklöv’s failure to check the research “cannot entail liability for misconduct in research”, wrote Quirin Schiermeier  in Nature [4].

Lönnstedt did not respond to Nature’s request for comment but her supervisor, Peter Eklöv is disappointed by his colleague. He sent an email to Nature in which he “takes full responsibility for the errors in the animal ethical” and talked to Science about the issue [5].

References

  1. Lönnstedt OM, Eklöv P. Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecologyScience 352, 1213-1216(2016).  doi: 10.1126/science.aad8828. PMID:27257256
  2. J. Berg, Editorial expression of concern. Science 354, 1242 (2016); published online 1 December 2016.
  3. Berg J. Editorial retraction. Science 356, 812 (2017). doi: 10.1126/science.aan5763.
    PMID: 28469005

  4. Quirin Schiermeier. Investigation finds Swedish scientists committed scientific misconduct. Nature (2017).
  5. Martin Enserink. Researcher in Swedish fraud case speaks out: ‘I’m very disappointed by my colleague’. Science (2017).

 

 

 

Image credit : Kristin Scharnwebber 

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