Take your time. Get it right. It is tempting to rush a retraction but that is not possible. You must put the effort in to get the experiments right. You need to communicate with each other and as a PI, must work hard to encourage lab members to work together and be patient. Dont blame yourself or each other. Just do your best. Trust that the scientific process will eventually lead you to the answer.
Probably the single most important thing I have learned is to be fair to the data. Every experiment could generate output that is difficult to explain. Similarly, every experiment could be impacted by a parameter that was not accounted for during the set up. I think its really important to spend the extra time and really try and get to the bottom of things that could otherwise be brushed aside as an anomaly. Also, there is no such thing as too many replicates (well, within reason and logistics, but the more the merrier)!
After this experience, I am more critical both of the literature and of my own work. Of course, we have all know that we shouldn’t allow our favored model to influence the collection and interpretation of data. In practice, however, it can be difficult to eliminate model bias, especially when your model seems so clear and correct in your mind. It is easy to dismiss data that is incongruent with your model as a failed experiment.
On a more positive note, I have also learned about the importance of correcting the scientific record. Although this was at times a frustrating experience, I believe it is extremely important to retract erroneous papers. The incorrect Ax21 model held up progress in our lab and most likely in other labs as well. Correcting this record will hopefully now allow us to move forward in our understanding the function of the XA21 or receptor.
Be diligent, be fair and most importantly follow the facts and the data. Models might sound really tempting and make a lot of sense in one's own head, but might be ultimately just castles in the sky. I think each and everyone of us needs to be reminded of this every now and than, because we all love our hypotheses and models. Sometimes it is just hard to give up on those, yet it is one of the most important traits of being a scientist to simply follow the data.
Who: Pamela Ronald is a Professor at the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. She also serves as Director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute.
What: Prof. Ronald’s lab studies how plants respond to disease, and how plants can defend themselves against invading microbes. Last year, the group retracted its PLOS ONE and Science papers after finding that a bacterial strain they had been using was contaminated and a bioassay they had relied on was flawed. They investigated into what went wrong, and published new results in PeerJ last month to correct the scientific record.
Prof. Ronald, Dr. Bahar, Dr. Pruitt, Dr. Schwessinger, and Dr. Daudi will be answering your questions live, regarding their article and their retraction experience, or any other topic of relevance to plant-microbe interactions.
Plant interactions with microbes are important in the context of plant health and global food security, and of course maintaining the integrity of the scientific record is of paramount importance. So take this opportunity to get all your questions answered by five experts in the field who have been through the process of correcting their work!
Image: Gene Hettel, CC-BY-SA
When: February 18, 2014 09:00 am PST