12 April 2018

An academic paper involving University of Queensland authors has been retracted after the researchers found errors in the computer code used to analyse some of the data.

The paper, titled “A mathematical model explains saturating axon guidance responses to molecular gradients”, was published in the journal eLife on 2 February 2016.

UQ Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Mark Blows said the UQ authors had acted appropriately as soon as they realised there were potential inconsistencies.

“In reproducing some of the quantitative analysis data, UQ researchers discovered inconsistences in the computer code, and they have worked with the journal to correct the scientific record, as is appropriate when errors or concerns are discovered,” he said.

“Following discussions with eLife editors, they decided to voluntarily retract the paper on the grounds that some of the published findings would require substantial corrections.”

Research leader Professor Geoffrey Goodhill said the inconsistencies were discovered in reproducing the quantitative analysis of experimental axon trajectory data.

“We are extremely sorry for these errors, and for any time other researchers may have wasted as a result. The incorrect code was specific just to this paper, and we are of course taking steps to ensure such errors won’t happen again in the future,” he said.

The journal has published the following retraction notice from the authors:

  Retraction: A mathematical model explains saturating axon guidance responses to molecular gradients
Huyen Nguyen, Peter Dayan, Zac Pujic, Justin Cooper-White, Geoffrey J Goodhill*

We are retracting the eLife paper cited above. In attempting to reproduce the quantitative analysis of the experimental axon trajectory data we encountered a number of errors and inconsistences. The first author (HN) could not supply the source data for the control experiments contributing to Figures 4, 5, 6, 8, and 11, or the final version of the code that generated these figures. We found that the Excel spreadsheets supplied with the figures were incorrect, as were the boxes drawn in Figures 9 and 10. Although we found no problem with the mathematical model or theoretical analysis, Figures 12 and 13 rely on parameters obtained from fitting data that is no longer available for verification.

We hope to be able to address these issues with new experimental data in the future. However, the changes that would be required to correct the paper are sufficiently extensive that its overall conclusions must currently be considered to be in doubt. We are therefore in agreement that retraction is the appropriate course of action at this time. We sincerely apologise.

 Media: communications@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 1120