Johns Hopkins scientists retract disputed paper

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post - Whistleblower Daniel Yuan at his home earlier this year.

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A disputed genetics paper arising from research at a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine lab was fully retracted Wednesday, according to the journal Nature, where the work first appeared.

The retraction caps a long-standing dispute over the accuracy of the lab results, a disagreement that may have precipitated the apparent suicide of the lead author of the paper, Yu-yi Lin.

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It is also a measure of vindication for Daniel Yuan, another employee of the lab who first raised questions about the research and who was fired from Hopkins in December 2011, after 10 years at the lab.

“This is welcome news,” Yuan said in an interview. “The paper was clearly in error and needed to be retracted.”

The retraction, signed by all 12 of the authors, except for Lin, said that “despite several attempts, we were unable to obtain results definitively supporting the major claims” of the paper.

“Although our inability to reproduce these results does not mean our conclusions are incorrect, we cannot say with confidence that they are correct,” the retraction said. “Given the time that has elapsed, and our inability to reproduce the main conclusions of the [paper], we feel obliged to retract it.”

The senior author of the paper, Jef Boeke, did not respond to an e-mail or a call to his office Wednesday afternoon.

The disputed paper, which focused on the detection of gene interactions, was published in February 2012. In August, shortly after Yuan had communicated his doubts to Hopkins scientists, Lin, the lead author, was found dead in his new lab in Taiwan, a puncture mark in his left arm and empty vials of sedatives and muscle relaxants around him, according to local news accounts.

“Daniel Yuan brought up questions; those questions were investigated by Dr. Boeke,” said Janice Clements, vice dean of faculty at the school. “It took a long time because Dr. Boeke was very, very careful. Dr. Boeke made a decision to retract when he could not reproduce part of the results.”

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