The journal Science has decided to retract its 2004 article at the heart of a long-running research misconduct investigation that began at North Carolina State University, according to an online science newsletter.
Science’s top editor told Retraction Watch that a retraction was in the works for the article written by former N.C. State chemistry professors Bruce Eaton and Dan Feldheim and one of their Ph.D. candidates, Lina Gugliotti.
Retraction Watch was following up on a News & Observer article reporting that the National Science Foundation had issued a letter of reprimand cutting off future funding to the three scientists. The NSF found that the Science article, which claimed a revolutionary breakthrough in biochemistry, was built on falsified data.
Science did not respond to questions from The N&O last week but told Retraction Watch on Friday afternoon that a retraction would be printed as soon as possible.
“We are checking to see how soon we can get it published,” Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt told the newsletter. McNutt did not know whether Feldheim and Eaton would agree with the retraction.
Science’s decision is likely to have a domino effect by prompting retractions from at least three other journals that published articles derived from the faulty Science article.
The heart of the 2004 Science paper was the claim that Feldheim, Eaton and Gugliotti used a complex mix of RNA and water to create tiny hexagonal crystals of palladium, a valuable metal with many industrial uses.
All life is carbon-based, and DNA and RNA regulate the creation of carbon-based cells. Feldheim and Eaton asserted that they were able to step out of the carbon-based world and deploy RNA to bring about the formation of metals.
After the 2004 Science article, Franzen joined Eaton and Feldheim in landing a private $1 million grant. The grant proposal said the power of evolutionary biology had the promise to produce world-changing inventions such as super-high-strength materials or endless supplies of clean energy from water.
But over time Franzen became convinced that the research was fraudulent and fell out with his colleagues when they refused to correct the record.
After years of legal threats, investigations and acrimonious exchanges in the arcane journals of research chemistry, Franzen obtained copies of the laboratory notebooks that were the foundation of the Science article.
I just did not expect it any more. I was prepared for limbo. I have been in limbo for so long.
Franzen said the notebooks revealed “an open-and-shut case of research fraud.” The smoking gun, he said, was a series of images that purported to be palladium crystals manufactured by RNA. The crystals were degrading at room temperature; palladium has a melting point of 2,831 degrees Fahrenheit and, like gold or platinum, does not degrade at room temperature.
Feldheim and Eaton, who moved to the University of Colorado, did not respond to requests for comment Saturday. Gugliotti could not be reached.
Franzen said Saturday that, after struggling to correct the record for a decade, the news of the upcoming retraction had him in a state of shock.
“I just did not expect it any more,” Franzen said. “I was prepared for limbo. I have been in limbo for so long.”