Psychologist's Paper Retracted After Dutch National Body Affirms Misconduct Findings

Retraction Watch Staff

November 30, 2020

A cognitive psychologist in Germany has lost one of two papers slated for retraction after her former institution found her guilty of misconduct.

In a 2019 report, Leiden University found that Lorenza Colzato, now of TU Dresden, had failed to obtain ethics ethics approval for some of her studies, manipulated her data and fabricated results in grant applications. Although the institution did not identify Colzato by name, Retraction Watch confirmed her identity.

The Leiden report — the conclusions of which were affirmed by the Netherlands Board on Research Integrity last month — called for the retraction of two papers by Colzato and her co-authors, three of whom acted as whistleblowers in the case. As the trio told us in an interview last December:

We worked with the accused for many years, during which we observed and felt forced to get involved in several bad research practices. These practices would range from small to large violations. Since early on we were aware that this was not OK or normal, and so we tried to stand up to this person early on.

However, we very quickly learned that complaining could only lead to nasty situations such as long and prolonged criticism at a professional and personal level. … But seeing this behavior recurring and steadily escalating, and seeing other people in the situations we had been in, led us to feel like we could no longer stay silent. We had become more independent (despite still working in the same department), and felt like we had to 'break' that system. About one year ago, we brought the issues to the attention of the scientific Director of our Institute, who took our story seriously from the beginning. Upon evaluating the evidence, together we decided the Director would file a complaint. Out of fear for retaliation, we initially did not join as formal complainants but eventually gathered the courage to join the complaint and disclose our role.

The now-retracted paper, which Colzato wrote with Laura Steenbergen — a former colleague at Leiden and one of the eventual whistleblowers — was titled "Overweight and cognitive performance: High body mass index is associated with impairment in reactive control during task switching." It appeared in 2017 in Frontiers in Nutrition .

Per the notice:

The journal hereby retracts the above cited article. This follows the recommendations of an investigation by Leiden University's Committee on Scientific Integrity which found that the paper contained gross data manipulation. These issues could not have been detected during review but nevertheless invalidate the study's findings. The retraction has been approved by the journal Chief Editors.

The second paper, "The effect of gamma-enhancing binaural beats on the control of feature bindings," remains intact in Experimental Brain Research , a Springer Nature title.

We emailed the journal to find out why the article has not been retracted, but we didn't hear back. However, Steenbergen told us that earlier this month she and her co-authors received the following statement for their approval:

All authors agree to this retraction/[author name] agrees to this retraction/[author name] does not agree to this retraction/ [author name] has not responded to any correspondence from the editor/publisher about this retraction.

Colzato did not respond to our request for comment. However, she posted a lengthy rebuttal to our initial story about her case, which we encourage readers to revisit.

Meanwhile, Steenbergen told us that she was "relieved" by the retraction, which puts a pin in a process that started in November 2018:

During that whole process, I was legally bound to secrecy about the content of the allegations and investigations, even though the whole time (and for complete honesty: even before that) I knew that falsified work, some of which carries my name too, was 'out there' without any of my colleagues being aware. From the moment I raised these concerns, I wished for nothing but for the papers related to the concerns to be retracted. But, as it turns out, getting a paper retracted (even if you can provide all the necessary proof of falsification) is actually quite challenging, perhaps even more challenging than was publishing it – which should of course never have happened in the first place.

 

Since you might be wondering: I stopped asking myself why, for example, I published this paper knowing the data was manipulated. Instead, I started using that energy for correcting such malpractices I somehow got involved in as a junior; earlier in my career. The current retraction marks the first, and I am personally not convinced (or even hoping) it will be the only, but it takes a long time to conduct all the investigations and process all accompanying formalities. That is why 'this episode' that you mention, is far from over. But, although draining, frustrating, and sometimes painful, that's okay – it provides a lot of optimism to experience that standing up against malpractice is, in fact, way less impossible and hopeless than we initially thought it to be; that doing the right thing is really the only way to build a scientific future.

One thought on "Psychologist's paper retracted after Dutch national body affirms misconduct findings"

L Murray

Retraction Watch "emailed the journal to find out why the article has not been retracted, but we didn't hear back."

It'd be useful if Retraction Watch would add WHEN they tried to contact someone and sometimes where. Given that some people haven't had access to their offices during this pandemic and hence possibly mail, email or phone messages. And, they could have been emailed five minutes ago for all we know. It would be best if you'd establish a policy for time between contacts and replies (or lact thereof) and a policy for confirming whether people even received those messages.

Posting those policies would legitamize your reporting somewhat more.

Otherwise, you're sometimes possibly making people look negligent or unprofessional without due cause.

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