Nearly two years after a university asked for retractions, two journals have done nothing

How long should a retraction take?

That’s a complex question, of course, depending on how long the alleged issues with a paper take to be investigated, whether authors — and their lawyers — fight tooth-and-nail against a retraction, and other factors. But once a university officially requests a retraction, how long should one take? 

The answer, for two journals who published work by cancer researcher Anil Jaiswal, is 22 months — and counting.

More than a year ago, we reported that from August 2016 until February 2017, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, requested 22 retractions of work by Jaiswal, in which they found evidence of inappropriate image manipulation. The university had also recommended that journals retract or correct four additional articles. (Jaiswal transitioned out of research last year; he retired from the university on November 1, 2017, according to a spokesperson.)

By April 2017, Jaiswal had 15 retractions. As of today, he has 16. That’s still shy of the 22 the University of Maryland requested, and it turns out that three journals — Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research, and Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, all published by the American Association for Cancer Research — have yet to do anything about seven articles the university requested be retracted. (Readers may recall a recent case in which a journal declined to retract a paper — this one by Paolo Macchiarini and colleagues — despite an institution’s request.)

The University of Maryland, Baltimore’s letter to Cancer Research was dated August 24, 2016, and requested five retractions:

It’s worth noting that all of these papers continued to be cited after August 24, 2016, anywhere from once to seven times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

We asked Chi Dang, the editor of Cancer Research, why the journal still hadn’t taken any action. Dang noted that he did not become editor until January of this year, so “the detailed history of this is beyond me at this time.”

However, I have been informed that several of Dr. Jaiswal’s papers will be retracted while several others are under the jurisdiction of Baylor College, which has been contacted by Cancer Research prior to our making a decision.  Be assured, I treat these issues with great intensity and will dig deep into the issues and mitigate whatever that is needed. Since I have not had a chance to review the issues fully, I cannot tell you why there is a delay in retracting the papers in question other than the communication with Baylor.  We believe that inclusion of the academic institutions in the dialogue is extremely important.

Baylor, however, tells Retraction Watch that the buck stops at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and that Cancer Research did not contact them until June of this year — some 21 months after the date of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, letter. According to a spokesperson:

When Dr. Anil Jaiswal left the employment of Baylor College of Medicine in July 2007, his grants transferred with him to the University of Maryland, along with all data associated with them.

We received an inquiry from Cancer Research on June 12, 2018, outlining concerns about the research associated with these grants. On June 27, 2018, our dean of research, Dr. Adam Kuspa, replied to Cancer Research that the grants had been transferred to the University of Maryland as well as all research materials supported by the two awards. As a result, we are not able to assess whether or not the allegations have substance or to open an inquiry, and he noted that any assessment, inquiry or investigation be conducted through his current awardee institution where these materials would be found.

The University of Maryland also recommended in an August 24, 2016 letter that “Aromatase Inhibitor-Mediated Downregulation of INrf2 (Keap1) Leads to Increased Nrf2 and Resistance in Breast Cancer,” published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, be retracted. It hasn’t been, and has been cited three times since the date of the letter.

And in a February 21, 2017 letter, the university requested that Clinical Cancer Research retract “NRH:quinone oxidoreductase 2-deficient mice are highly susceptible to radiation-induced B-cell lymphomas,” The paper has yet to be retracted, but it has not been cited since February 2017.