A question of scientific misconduct

Last week a 21-year-old article written by three renowned  University of Groningen scientists was retracted from the The Annual Review of Sex Research. The authors had submitted a paper using previous research, without obtaining permission.

The article was written by Harry van de Wiel, Willibrord Weijmar Schultz, Mels van Driel and Daniela Hahn and concerned sexuality and cancer in women. According to the editor, they failed to obtain permission from  Diana Bransfield (whose last name is now Jeffery, after her marriage) ‘regarding use of research’ from co-authored work in Sexual & Marital Therapy. They also failed to refer to Bransfield’s dissertation.

The case grew larger when Dutch science journalist Frank Van Kolfschooten wrote in NRC Handelsblad that the scientists had plagiarized Bransfield in four more articles. These were supposed to have been withdrawn, but she later found out this never happened, according to Van Kolfschooten.

Substantial overlap

This drew attention to an earlier case. An article by Van Driel and Weijmar Schultz published in BJUI International in 2009 was retracted in 2011 due to ‘substantial overlap’ with an earlier article by Talli Yehuda Rosenbaum.

According to the University Medical Center Groningen (UMCG), where the three scientists work, the ‘Bransfield affair’ was an incident and an honest mistake.  ‘The scientists believed that a reference to their own literature sufficed’, says UMCG spokesperson Marjolein Bogaard about the 1992 article. ‘Unknowingly, they violated the rights of the American co-author. When she pointed this out, sixteen years later, the authors asked the editors of the publications they had knowledge of to retract the articles. They also sent a letter of apology to all those concerned.’


The editor of The Annual Review of Sex Research only recently met the request of the authors. Two other articles have not been retracted by the editors. ‘The researchers have lived up to their promise’, says Marjolein Bogaards of the UMCG. ‘It is the job of the editors to meet their request.’

The case from 2009 was due to miscommunication, the authors claim. ‘Again, the article has been retracted and an honest apology has been made’, says Bogaards. ‘The scientists have been cautioned by their employer.’