Earlier this year, the president of the Karolinska Institute, Ole Petter Ottersen, contacted the journal Respiration, saying KI had conducted an investigation and determined that a 2015 paper co-authored by once-lauded surgeon Paolo Macchiarini had been tainted by misconduct. Please retract the paper, Ottersen said. When the journal said no — opting to publish correspondence from KI and the authors’ response instead — Ottersen posted some of their correspondence online, in an attempt to pressure the journal to do the right thing. It’s not going to work, according to Thomas H. Nold, publication manager at Karger, which publishes Respiration. We spoke to Nold about the journal’s plans for the paper.
Retraction Watch: How do you feel about KI’s decision to publish your correspondence?
Thomas Nold: We take this matter seriously and have been fully transparent. We stand behind our correspondence with KI and regret that KI hasn’t obtained our consent to publish this correspondence in its blog.
RW: Has the publication of your correspondence influenced your decision of whether or not to retract the paper?
TN: We review every retraction request with the same thoroughness. This kind of publicity does not and for very obvious reasons cannot play a role in the decision whether we retract an article or not. We opted to present the retraction request and responses from affected authors before the blog post was published.
RW: KI’s argument is that it has already conducted an investigation of the paper, which included hearing from the authors, so the journal doesn’t need to do its own. Why are you not convinced the paper should be retracted?
TN: In any retraction case we conduct our own analysis and consider all available information. In this specific case we needed to consider four other renowned institutions besides KI and the 26 authors of the article. Based on the evidence available to the journal we do not see ourselves in the position to make a judgement. We see the journal as a forum, and by publishing the different statements including KI’s report concerning the article our aim is to make the conflict completely transparent.
RW: According to the published correspondence, one of the authors (who the journal didn’t name) asked the journal to delay the decision. Macchiarini told us it wasn’t him. Can you say which author objected to the retraction? And was it his/her lawyer, or the author him/herself?
TN: The journal Respiration will publish the statements of the authors who have agreed to have their comments published. Additionally, an editor’s note explaining the journal’s view on the retraction process will be published as well as KI’s opinion on the scientific misconduct. We do not know whether any of the authors have chosen to involve a lawyer.