Earlier this month, British scientists at Newcastle University in England reported the creation of spermatozoa from human stem cells, the official announcement of which was published in the journal Stem Cells and Development. Today, however, the editor of the journal Nature has announced that the British scientists have decided to retract the article.
Although the editor of Stem Cells and Development, Graham Parker, initially announced on this journal’s website that the sperm study "is being retracted", without offering any explanation, it was the journal Nature which quoted him as having said that two paragraphs in the article’s introduction were found to have been plagiarized, and were taken from a 2007 review in the journal Biology of Reproduction.
The plagiarism is being attributed to a research associate who left the University, and the violation is not considered to be egregious enough to undermine the overall validity of the paper. Nevertheless, even though the authors assert that the underlying scientific integrity of the study remains uncompromised, a number of other scientists acknowledge that concerns might now be raised over the general credibilty of the study.
According to Allan Pacey, secretary for the British Fertility Society, "This is clearly scientific misconduct. I can understand why people might think, if they were sloppy here, maybe they were sloppy elsewhere." The claims made in the publication were highly controversial, and today’s retraction of the paper only adds further fuel to the controversy. As Pacey adds, "It was bad enough to begin with, and now we’ve got another scandal to deal with."
In an official statement issued to the press, representatives of Newcastle University assert that, "No questions have been raised about the science conducted or the conclusions of the research." Additionally, they add that the paper will now be resubmitted to another academic journal for publication, and that Newcastle University will be overseeing a more thorough supervision of research associates in the future.
According to Elizabeth Wager, however, chairperson of the international organization of publishers and editors known as the Committee on Publication Ethics, "This sets a line in the sand. Editors have a responsibility to correct the scientific record if misconduct has occurred."
Although plagiarism per se is not considered to be as serious an offense as data fabrication, nevertheless the incident evokes unpleasant memories among the global scientific community of the Hwang Woo-Suk scandal, whose two articles on human cloning that were published in the highly respected journal Science in 2004 and 2005 were later discovered to have been fraudulent.
Dr. Karim Nayernia, who led the spermatozoa research at Newcastle University, was unavailable for comment.