Retraction count for Italian researcher swells to 16 as five papers fall

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A researcher who is facing a criminal investigation in Italy for research misconduct has seen five more papers retracted, for a total of 16.

Molecular and Cellular Biology has retracted four papers published between 1987 to 2001 by Alfredo Fusco, a cancer researcher in Italy; the Journal of Virology retracted one 1985 paper. Fusco was first author on two papers and last author on three. Both journals are published by The American Society for Microbiology (ASM), which issued identical retraction notices for all five papers, mentioning “evidence of apparent manipulation and duplication.”

Carlo Croce, a cancer researcher now at the Ohio State University, who has been dogged by misconduct allegations, co-authored one of the papers.  Croce now has eight retractions.

Here’s the notice presented for all five retractions:

The publisher hereby retracts this article. Questions have been raised by concerned readers about the integrity of the data. The American Society for Microbiology has reviewed the figures and confirmed evidence of apparent manipulation and duplication. Since the integrity of the data as presented was compromised, this publication is retracted in its entirety. We apologize to the readers of [the journal] and regret any inconvenience that this causes. The authors did not agree to this retraction.

Fusco and Croce did not respond to Retraction Watch’s request for comment. Neither did Giancarlo Vecchio, an emeritus professor at the University of Naples Federico II who was last author for the two papers where Fusco was first author.

In 2013, we reported that Fusco had been charged with criminal research misconduct by Italian authorities. In May 2017, Nature reported that researchers in Italy were frustrated by the lack of progress in the ongoing investigation:

Researchers frustrated by the case’s slow progress have now told Nature that there is strong evidence that dozens of papers may contain manipulated data — and that a commercial photography studio was called in to cut and paste images. They say they are speaking out about the magnitude of the allegations because of their increasing impatience with the slow pace of investigations by police and by academic authorities. The failure to resolve the affair is harming Italian science, they say.

Fusco has denied the allegations.

Here’s the list of the four recently retracted papers in Molecular and Cellular Biology:

And “A mos Oncogene-Containing Retrovirus, Myeloproliferative Sarcoma Virus, Transforms Rat Thyroid Epithelial Cells and Irreversibly Blocks Their Differentiation Pattern,” published in 1985 in the Journal of Virology, has 45 citations and was retracted Feb. 26.

Croce has also been involved in legal battles, but as the plaintiff: He is suing the New York Times and Purdue University professor David Sanders for defamation, over allegations of misconduct raised by Sanders in a March 2017 Times story. Croce denies the allegations. 

On Friday, an external review into OSU’s probe of the allegations against Croce concluded that the university had “reached reasoned and supportable conclusions.” (Stay tuned for more coverage about this story.)

Croce has recently received several prestigious awards for his work, including a share of the Dan David Prize in February — which came with $300,000 — and the 2017 Margaret Foti Award for Leadership and Extraordinary Achievements in Cancer Research, from the American Association for Cancer Research.

We reached out to ASM for comment, but did not receive a response.

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