I wrote to Phillip Campbell at Nature saying that I wished to retract my News and Views piece because I no longer had confidence in the findings on which it was based. My reasons for doubt were: We were unable to reproduce Bellgrau et al. Thankfully, Nature did agree to publish the retraction, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they were unhappy with the wording.
Bellgrau et al. My colleagues and I have been unable to reproduce some of the results of Bellgrau et al. Allison et al. Natl Acad. USA 94, ; This was accompanied by: D. They note, however, that the magnification in Figure1g of their paper should be times, not 45 times as printed. Both groups believe that other published data support their views, and interested readers can contact them directly for further details.
Note that they did not say that the results were reproducible, or that they had actually reproduced them, they just considered them to be reproducible. Indeed, no one, including Bellgrau et al. Furthermore, it turned out that Sertoli cells do not even express CD95L.
The retraction was published in , and has attracted 16 citations of its own. However, of the citations of the Bellgrau et al. Are the results robust? Do they back up the scientists' conclusions? Remember: nematodes, fruit flies and mice are not humans, and what happens in a Petri dish won't neccesarily happen in a person. Read the supplementary material too. You will find gems. Vested interests Check for conflicts of interest. These should be declared at the end of the paper, but make your own checks too.
Plenty of scientists have financial links with companies. The reader might want to know about them. Get context Science builds on science. Know the previous studies that matter so you can paint a fuller picture.
If your story is about chimps in Guinea using cleavers and anvils, you might mention the different tools that chimps in the Republic of Congo use for termite fishing. Interview the authors Write from the paper alone and your news story will be dull. Interviews with authors will give you the colour to tell a story. How did the face transplant patient react when they looked in the mirror?
What possessed the authors to study spiders on cocaine? How did it feel to unearth the remnants of an ancient hearth, knowing a Neanderthal sat in the same spot 40, years ago? Get them to explain their results and justify their conclusions. What do the results mean in plain English?
What do they not mean? Ask your questions in simple language to get answers you can quote. Run phrases you might use past the authors, so they can warn you of howlers. Do not ask multi-part questions: you will not get full answers. Remember that papers can take months to appear in journals, so find out how the work has moved on since the work was submitted. Think about whom you want to interview. First authors are generally the graduate students or postdocs who did all the work. Last authors are often senior scientists.
On a good day, a senior author will give you the clearest explanation, the perfect quote, and the richest context. On a bad day, they will have no recollection of the paper their name appears on. Get other scientists' opinions Send the paper to a handful of experts to check.
You will find people in the paper's references, or on Google Scholar. Chat about the paper on the phone. Some scientists will email you thick paragraphs of reaction. You might salvage a sentence or two, but email makes for clunky quotes: people do not speak the way they write. Ask your expert if the work looks sound or flakey. What does it add? What is the striking result? Will it be controversial? What fresh questions does it raise? Comments from other scientists will always improve your story.
They will also save you from writing a story you wish you had never touched. Find the top line You've read the paper, interviewed the authors and discussed the work with other experts.
Now you need to find the top line. One option is what drew you to the paper in the first place. But there will be others. Go over your interviews. What stood out as most fascinating, alarming, amusing, or important?Read it You cannot cover a paper properly without reading it. Look at odds ratios, error bars, fitted curves and statistical significances. What do the results mean in plain English. How did it feel to unearth the remnants of an ancient hearth, knowing a Neanderthal sat in the same spot 40, years ago.
Move on if the answer is no. Was it large enough to draw conclusions from? We received two very positive reviews, but based on a third, very negative one, from Bellgrau et al.
You will probably need help to work out how fatal they are. Was it large enough to draw conclusions from? USA 94, ; We then sent the manuscript to PNAS , where it has attracted citations. Plenty of scientists have financial links with companies. Get other scientists' opinions Send the paper to a handful of experts to check.
Ask your questions in simple language to get answers you can quote. Find weaknesses and flaws. This is harder than it sounds.
He added: …I withdrew the paper because I am not accustomed to be censored. The closing date for entries is 11 May Coming up in this series: How to …. They note, however, that the magnification in Figure1g of their paper should be times, not 45 times as printed.
Will it be controversial? Carlo M. Make your story clear and informed. Are the results robust? The closing date for entries is 11 May Coming up in this series: How to …. Bear in mind that the story you should tell your readers might not be the story the authors want you to tell your readers.
This was accompanied by: D. Natl Acad. I was very excited by this paper, as it showed that expression of CD95L on Sertoli cells in allogeneic mismatched testes tissue transplanted under the kidney capsule was able to induce apoptosis of invading cytotoxic T cells, thereby preventing rejection. Puzzled by this, we decided to repeat the experiments by Bellgrau et al.
Note that they did not say that the results were reproducible, or that they had actually reproduced them, they just considered them to be reproducible. Get other scientists' opinions Send the paper to a handful of experts to check. As I wrote in a News and Views piece , the implications of these findings were enormous — grafts engineered to express CD95L would be able to prevent rejection without generalized immunosuppression. Spend time on the results.
Knowing that Nature had an explicit editorial policy to publish, in some form, work which refutes an important conclusion of any paper which appears in its pages, we submitted our findings describing the transgenic mice and our failure to replicate the work from Bellgrau et al. We then sent the manuscript to PNAS , where it has attracted citations. Be brutal about this. The majority will not make good news stories. Will it be controversial?
This is harder than it sounds.
Read it You cannot cover a paper properly without reading it. Indeed, no one, including Bellgrau et al. Will it be controversial? So don't make things worse by introducing errors of your own. The authors maintain that the concern is about a single background cell not a positive cell to show transfection efficiency and is inconsequential to proving transfection.
The retraction was published in , and has attracted 16 citations of its own.
Some scientists will email you thick paragraphs of reaction. He added: I assure you I have done nothing on this paper.