This is a slightly unusual retraction: typically either the scientist has a horrible realisation that something went wrong (maybe their filters were affecting composition of their media) or the journal has a horrible realisation that something went wrong (maybe the images were Photoshopped or the patients didn’t actually exist).
The Seralini paper, though, is being retracted for being kinda pointless. The editors emphasise that they are not suggesting fraud, and write
A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.
Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.
They’re certainly right about that, but this is hardly a new finding. I’m not really happy about retraction of papers when it isn’t based on new information that wasn’t easily available at the time of review. Too many pointless and likely wrong papers are published, but this one is being retracted for being pointless, likely wrong, and controversial.
[Update: mass enthusiasm for the retraction is summarised by Peter Griffin]
Thomas Lumley (@tslumley) is Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Auckland. His research interests include semiparametric models, survey sampling, statistical computing, foundations of statistics, and whatever methodological problems his medical collaborators come up with. He also blogs at Biased and Inefficient See all posts by Thomas Lumley »