Thursday, March 20, 2008

Buck's Retraction and Zou's Rebuttal

The high-profile retraction of a published paper by Nobel Prize winner Linda Buck has been widely reported in mainstream media. The retraction contains a paragraph outlining Author Contributions to the original paper, which appears to be pointing a finger to one of the co-principal authors. Without explicitly accusing forgery, it says that the said author Zou Zhihua (邹志华) had "prepared and analysed the mice and provided all figures and data for the paper". The authors now find that they "have been unable to reproduce the reported findings" and that there are "inconsistencies between some of the figures and the data published in the paper and the original data."

The news got much attention in Chinese media and community primarily because Zou Zihua is a Chinese and received college education in China. He had earned his Masters degree from the No. 1 Military Medicine University in GuangZhou, China, and then a Ph. D. from Osaka University School of Medicine in Japan. After that he joined Professor Buck's laboratory and performed the experiments now in dispute.

After the news broke out, Zou had maintained a public silence and declined all media interviews. However, he appeared to have entered a couple of comments himself on the Nature News site. In one of them, he was clearly resentful that he was being singled out as the sole responsible party. Despite the fact that he had also signed the retraction, he still stood by his data and figures:
Yes, I signed the retraction letter and hope every scientist who is aware of the problems with a paper will take similar actions immediately. However, I stand behind the conclusions of the paper and believe the experiments can be repeated. I am planning to do so. This will undoubtedly be daunting to a struggling junior faculty, and no one can guarantee success. I agree with the view that everyone who is on a publication should take full responsibility. Otherwise, stay in the acknowledgment.
Meanwhile, having totally lost her confidence in Zou's work, Professor Buck had asked for a review of two other publications in which Zou was also the lead author.

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