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Proteomics Skullduggery

Via Retraction Watch comes a story in Lab Times of a mysterious case of proteomics data plagiarism.

In 2005, researchers from the University of Tuscia, University of Turku, and University of South Denmark published a paper in the journal Proteomics that included as one of its figures a scan of a 2D gel containing barley proteins.

Nothing unusual about that, except, it turns out, a group at the University of Munich had submitted a paper to Proteomics several years before featuring the exact same gel. Upon noticing this apparently "stolen" gel, one of the Munich researchers got in touch with Proteomics chief editor Michael Dunn to notify him.

And here the story, reported by Lab Times' Ralf Neumann, gets interesting. Proteomics twice rejected the Munich's group paper before the gel dispute came to light. When Munich researcher Bernhard Granvogl contacted the journal's editorial staff to alert them to the issue, the staff maintained that the gels were different and that no plagiarism had taken place. However, they either (in Granvogl's telling) requested the Munich group to resubmit their twice-rejected paper, or (in Dunn's telling) entertained a request from Granvogl to resubmit. In either case, the paper was published in Proteomics in 2006, and everyone went their separate ways.

And that might have been the end of it were it not for an anonymous tip emailed last year to Lab Times suggesting it look into the matter. That tip set off an investigation — which Neumann details — by the magazine and Proteomics editors that led to a lot more questions, a few possible answers, an ultimate retraction of the 2005 paper, and a must-read story for fans of scientific skullduggery.