Palaeo papers can be retracted

Via Retraction Watch, I find that the conjecture, cherished by so many, that, unlike all other fields of science, there is absolutely no misconduct in palaeoecology may need revising ever so slightly as L & O have retracted Zou et al (2017).

The article by Youjia Zou, Xiangying Xi, and Chaoyang Zhang entitled “Southward migrations of the Atlantic Equatorial Currents during the Younger Dryas” (doi 10.1002/lno.10529) published in Limnology & Oceanography has been retracted by journal Editor in Chief, Robert W. Howarth, the Association for the Sciences of Limnology & Oceanography, and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Author Zhang had no affiliation with the Georgia Institute of Technology as claimed, and the authors have been unable to provide information that would allow verification of critical aspects of how the research was conducted, leaving the journal unable to verify the intellectual integrity of the data and work.

Left pondering what “critical aspects of the research” are in question, since forgetting which institute one works for hardly seems like a hanging offence, I’ve read the paper. It is perhaps the only “high-resolution (∼ 75 yr/sample)” isotope stratigraphy with only about 20 samples in the last 14000 years. I’m sure the authors meant to write “low-resolution (∼ 750 yr/sample)”, but keyboards are such tricky things.

Zou et al report oxygen isotope, Mg/Ca and calcareous dinocyst data from two cores in the Atlantic, one either side of the thermal equator. I would have expected a sentence like ‘cores SAU1702 and SAD1006 were collected from HMS Pinafore in 2027 with a Glew corer’, but its not there. I cannot find anything about these cores via google either.

The acknowledgements should surely give some hint: who funded ship time; who gave access to cores; who paid the salaries of the palynologist and geochemists. Quick scroll to the end of the paper. No acknowledgements. Oh.

The methods section is thin and confusing, almost like the authors don’t really know what they did:

Stable isotope analyses for the cores were mainly based on foraminifers G. ruber (white variety) from the > 255 μm size fraction, using approximately 50 (80 for replicated samples) gently crushed shells, splitting into aliquots for Mg/Ca and δ18O analyses, and transferring to clean vials. Any visible coarse grains were removed prior to transfer to the vials. Samples were wet-sieved using a 75 μm mesh. Sediment from each core interval was dried overnight at ∼ 50°C, and then disaggregated in ultra clean water for 6–8 h on a shaker table.

This is to recipe to bake a loaf of bread, then knead the dough, and finally mix in water.

Some of the referencing is innovative. Take, for example,

autotrophic dinoflagellates whose distributions in geography are controlled primarily by seawater temperature and nutrient availability, more in cooler waters but less in warmer waters [Madsen et al. 2001; Barker et al. 2009])

Neither Madsen et al nor Barker et al have anything to say about dinocysts, calcareous or otherwise. This is a paper that should never have passed peer review.

But what of other papers by the authors. Zou (who, except for a coauthor, seems to be the only person using the affiliation “Department of Meteorology and Oceanography, Shanghai Maritime University”), and Xi, from the Management Faculty at Wuhan University of Technology, have many talents. A previous paper models tropical Atlantic currents during the Little Ice Age. The text on the model set-up reads thus:

an oceanic general circulation model (OGCM) proposed by Kim et al. (2004) has been employed and modified after considering the geometry of the continental shelf and bottom topography.

That is it. I can find no information in the paper about how it the model was forced. Contrast with the first paragraph of the model description in Kim et al (2004).

[7] The model used for this study is the Japan Marine Science and Technology Center (JAMSTEC) OGCM [Ishida et al., 1998], based on Modular Ocean Model version 2 [Pacanowski, 1995]. It covers a global domain except for the Arctic Ocean extending from 75°S to 75°N, and has realistic coastline and bottom topography based on the National Geophysical Data Center data set (ETOPO5). The model has a horizontal resolution of 0.25° both in longitude and latitude and has 55 levels in the vertical. The vertical grid spacing increases smoothly from 10 m at the surface to about 50 m near 500 m, about 70 m near 1000 m depth, and about 400 m at 6000 m. Data of the upper 32 levels (0–1007.29 m) are used for this study.

Zou and Xi also have papers, also lacking acknowledgements, on capsizing of bulk carriers carrying nickel ores, and the motions of anchored Capesize ships (Capesized – my new-word-of-the-day – are really big ships, too huge to fit in the Suez Canal). There are not many people can count tiny calcareous dinocysts and numerically model gigantic ships.


About richard telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
This entry was posted in Misconduct, Peer reviewed literature and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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