Monday, June 20, 2011

Paper On Himalayan Mineral Retracted By Geology

I had blogged a while back about a paper in Geology by Dr. Anju Pandey and colleagues on the presence of the mineral majorite from the Ladakh region of the Himalayas. Majorite is a mineral stable under very high pressures and its presence in a rock known as eclogite implied that the Indian plate during its collision with the Asian plate had subducted to great depths perhaps as deep as 200 km  and then been brought up to the surface relatively rapidly by thrust faults and erosional unroofing.

Sigh... turns out Geology has retracted that paper because metamorphic petrologists pointed out that a key photograph in the paper showing majorite has been plagiarized from an older paper published in 1998 from a Norwegian rock sample . The Himalayan sample.. the thin section from which the microphotograph of majorite was supposed to have been taken is missing. Which means, unless the original sample is found or another sample from the field area is taken and the analysis replicated, the results published in the paper by Pandey  are suspect.

Retraction Watch has the details of what went wrong and the article is worth reading. It will give readers an idea of how large collaborative projects spanning continents are put together and culminate in a scientific paper often with different contributors not knowing what is going on with a different component of the study.

Coauthor Mary Leech for example worked with Dr. Pandey on the tectonic implications of the mineral majorite but she did not actually see the sample.  Dr. Pandey only provided photographs of the sample and Mary Leech trusted the photographs in front of her. Shouldn't she have insisted that she take a look at the sample itself? Another co-author Preeti Singh had originally worked on the sample and had not found any evidence of majorite. Did she not look more closely at Dr. Pandey's  new results to figure out how she had missed noticing the mineral earlier? Dr. Pandey looks to be the one most in trouble, but what are the responsibilities of the co-authors?

Isn't making sure that the primary data actually exists before agreeing to be co-author one of them?

Tip: Highly Allochthonous

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