Here is what I wrote to the Editor-in-Chief of Nature and now wish to share with public:
A demand for retraction of a Nature publication
July 17, 2014
Dear Editor-in-Chief of Nature,
I sent you an email recently complaining the intentional and repeated removals of my submissions, without (sending me) any decision on the submissions, from Nature’s manuscript tracking system. I have not received your response, as usually the case for my prior communications to you.
Now I just read a Retraction published in Nature (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v511/n7509/full/nature13549.html) which prompts me to write you this demand for retracting another Nature publication.
A recent research article in Nature [T. M. Norman, N. D. Lord, J. Paulsson, R. Losick, Nature 503, 481 (2013).] made a claim for bacterial differentiation by presenting a so-called “cell fate switching” between a motile unicellular state and a chained multicellular state in bacterium Bacillus subtilis. This study was highlighted as “systems biology: how bacteria choose a lifestyle” [J. W. Locke, Nature 503, 476 (2013)].
However, after carefully reading this new research paper, I realized that the claim of “cell fate switching” is most likely an illusion derived from using incorrect study approach and making erroneous data manipulation based on some invalid assumptions. Thus, I wrote my first letter to all authors including two corresponding authors, asking 10 initial questions. I told them that their quick response would be very helpful for my further analysis on their paper. Unfortunately, I did not receive any response, even after I sent more letters urging them living up to the corresponding authors’ responsibility.
Thus, I made my analysis on their claims using information presented in their publication without access to the underlying data. Even so I still could make some solid criticisms on their main conclusion: discovery of an autonomous “cell-fate” switching between a motile unicellular state and a chained multicellular state for bacterium Bacillus subtilis.
I submitted my analysis as a Communications Arising to Nature. Nature rejected it without requesting a peer review on it. Nature also ignored my plea to it for asking the authors of their publication to give a response.
The Nature-rejected Communications Arising was published in Logical Biology [13(1): 3-7, 2014] (see attached PDF) and, as part of the evidence for identifying some potential misconduct, was sent to Harvard University’s Research Integrity Officer for Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Gearoid P. Griffin. My complaint was received by on Feb. 5th, 2014 and also received by the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) on the same time. You and Nature should also received copies of these communications as I usually put you on the CC list.
Now more than 5 months have passed. I haven’t received any decision from Harvard University with regarding my complaint. But the incorrect interpretation and wrong conclusion made in the Nature publication should not be remained in scientific literature when the so-called “corresponding authors” even do not live up to an intrinsic responsibility of responding to scientific criticism.
Thus, just as a wrongly interpreted publication not replicated by the authors needs to be retracted as shown in the recent retraction mentioned in the beginning of this email, a mis-interpreted and erroneously concluded publication already solidly challenged by other scientist also needs to be retracted, unless the authors can offer convincing counter-arguments and invalidate the criticisms.
Nature should learn a real lesson from its heavy spin on the STAP cells. One way to learn a real lesson is to open its door to solid scientific criticisms. This should include stopping unjustified rejection of my submissions criticizing Nature’s flawed and even fraud publications and allowing me to log on to Nature’s website to make timely comment on Nature’s publication.
If Nature wishes to reduce its chance of publishing too amazing and thus really unbelievable “discovery” /deception in biological field it may be even worthy of sending some “breakthrough” studies to me for a critical review before they break the trust of public to “science”. My service to Nature in this respect will be totally free. But I wish to be identified in real name and thus be held responsible for any of my reviews.
Shi V. Liu MD PhD