Garnering Praise From Peers, Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist Publicly Retracts Paper

Garnering Praise From Peers, Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist Publicly Retracts Paper

The reason the American scientist is in the news is that he publicly withdrew a paper published last year. Professor Frances Arnold received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 for sharing the prize with George P. Smith and Gregory Winter for research on enzymes.

It was written by Inha Cha, a graduate student with Arnold, and Zhi-Jun Zia, a post-doctoral researcher, as a senior author. Professor Arnold went on Twitter to announce that they were withdrawing the paper. The study, published last May in the prestigious journal Science, sheds light on how molecules found in the basic structures of many antibiotic families use enzymes to properly make lactam rings.

“For the first tweet about my work in 2020, I am completely surprised that I withdrew last year’s paper on the enzymatic synthesis of beta-lactams. The work was not reproducible,” the scientist wrote in a tweet.

Professor Arnold wrote in a follow-up tweet, “It’s painful to admit, but it’s important to do. I apologize to everyone. I was a bit busy submitting it, and I didn’t do my job well.”

The journal simultaneously posted a withdrawal note stating that when the team tried to do the job again, they did not see the actual results. Looking at the lab notebook of the first author they realized that the raw data and other entries were missing from the published final analysis.

Replies to tweets praised such withdrawals, with many saying that misinterpreting and admitting mistakes should be how science should be handled.  Professor Arnold’s public message praised his scientific integrity.

This stress of expression can affect the bad sciences, the medical and social sciences the most, but as is clear in this case, the physical sciences are not immune.  Withdrawal has focused more on ongoing discussions on the reproductive crisis in science and medicine. Career advances by many researchers further claim that they increase the number of publications they can get in prestigious journals.

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