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Researchers Retract Academic Paper Because Company Complains The Results Hurt Its Profits

from the did-someone-say-cyanide? dept

An important aspect of the academic publishing process is the facility to retract papers at a later date if the work turns out to have serious errors or -- in rare cases -- to be fraudulent. For many years, the site Retraction Watch has played an important role in keeping track of when papers are retracted -- and why. But even with that long experience, its writers were surprised by the following case:

It's not unusual for us to hear allegations that journals have caved to corporate demands that they retract papers. And companies have certainly objected to the publication of results that painted their products in an unflattering light.

But what we've never explicitly seen is a retraction notice that comes right out and says that they only reason a paper is being removed from the literature is that a company complained. That's the jaw-dropping case with "Visual defects among consumers of processed cassava (gari)," a paper published earlier this year in the African Journal of Food Sciences
Here's why the retraction was made:
The retraction is based on the fact that a Gari processing company has requested the retraction this paper from journal's website and publisher's database since it is crumbling their business inputs to their competitors leading to a drastic reduction in customers and consumers hence affecting their productivity and profitability.
Well, that's hardly a surprise given what the paper claimed:
The visual acuity of consumers of gari showed a significant decrease (P<0.05) when compared with that of the non consumers of gari. The incidence of color blindness is higher in gari consumers than the non consumers. Visual defects are correlated to the frequency of eating gari, for how long gari has been eaten and age. The high prevalence of visual defects among the consumers of gari may be due to the exposure to unsafe amount of cyanide in gari that was consumed over a long period of time.
Some comments to the post on Retraction Watch also raise questions about the validity of those results. But given the seriousness of the potential health issues, the correct response is surely to repeat the research with even greater rigor, rather than simply making the paper and its troubling results disappear.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 10:27am

    All these studies saying that smoking can cause lung cancer are hurting my cigarette company's profits.

    I demand that all you scientists and researchers retract your research immediately and state that cigarette's actually reduce your odds of getting lung cancer!

    I'll even give you all some high paying no work jobs at my company!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 10:38am

    they could just sponsor a study that links cyanide to happiness

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    That One Guy (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 10:46am

    Someone just bought themselves a researcher or two it would seem, that or the researcher(s) boss.

    In either case, hope the one's who got purchased got a good deal, as after something like this only complete fools would trust anything they put out in the future, their credibility is gone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    AricTheRed (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 10:59am


    So I'm going to have to cut back my Tapioca habit back to only one pack a day.

    And all this time I thought my vision problems were only related to that private workout that the Catholic preist said would make me go blind.

    Although with the time I'll be saving not eating tapioca I know what I'll be doing...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 11:02am


    Well I guess an overdose of cyanide could put you out of your misery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 11:05am


    You ought to see the story of how aspartame got FDA approved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re:

    The American Parasite - 250 Millions Americans Affected

    Interestingly when I youtube search 'The American Parasite' youtube doesn't have this complete video and instead has a bunch of irrelevant videos for at least the first three pages. Instead 'U S Parasite Part 1', only a small part of the entire video, shows up.

    Also various listings of this video have been removed in the past.

    (BTW, I am not advocating the product being sold by this video neither am I saying that candida is the root cause of everyone's problems, I only link to this video because it does a good job explaining the corrupt nature of how aspartame got FDA approved).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 12:37pm

    Ah! I see. No wonder the majority of Nigerians are blind to everything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 1:31pm


    They drink a lot of Gari, and eat Eba [boiled/congealed Gari], so ya, that's why I say they're blind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 21st, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    Cyanide Versus Starvation.

    I am not an Africanist, and I have never worked in Africa, but I studied for years with two Africanists, Barry L. Isaac at the University of Cincinnati, and Vernon R. Dorjahn at the University of Oregon, both of them specializing in West Africa. That said, Cassava is a poverty food, par excellence. It's what Africans eat if they cannot afford anything better, such as fried bananas, or Maize corn (called "mealies in southern Africa"). Consumption of cassava is probably a fairly good index of vitamin-protein-mineral starvation. Parenthetically, traditional African custom calls for children to be breast-fed for a long time, to the age of four or so. However, when people move to the city, this custom is apt to be disrupted. All over the third world, it is generally a very bad day for a child when he is switched from Mom to some mixture of powder and water. Often a fatally bad day. That said, I don't quite see how a study carried out by interviewing people could separate cassava consumption from general nutritional status. I suppose you could do a study with rats, feeding some of them on cassava, and some of them on cane sugar, the characteristic West Indian poverty food. The difference is that whereas cassava grows naturally, and has to be processed to remove the cyanide which it uses to keep bugs away, sugar in the West Indies is a byproduct of an industrial crop. The Yoruba used to plant cassava plants around their villages, the idea being that the plant would grow to its full size, underground, and then go dormant. When the village was besieged in the endemic slave-taking wars, the villagers would eventually dig up the cassava, grate and wash it, and eat it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Cyanide Versus Starvation.

    This is rather outside my field of expertise, and I claim no other specific knowledge other than my personal offhand general opinion as a retired biochemist.

    Cyanide is a common chemical defense used by a thousand or more plants. Peach pits, lima beans, manioc and many other species produce the toxin. I have no idea how much cyanide is left after the preparation of such items that used for food, nor what its long term effects on the body are. But it is not likely to be healthy.

    I would suspect that those who consume such preparations already have short lifespans, poor nutrition, scarce or nonexistent medical care, and a wide variety of other diseases and conditions that obscure the long term effects of cyanide from such sources. Even from what are now believed to be appropriate and safe methods of detoxification at this time.

    A general discussion of the dangers of longterm exposure to cynade from the gold industries viewpoint can be found at:

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2014 @ 5:04pm

    You see, this is the free market unfettered capitalistic mantra - eliminate the competition, squash the criticism and you are left as the premier uber supplier of greatness and all shall bow to your supremeness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 21st, 2014 @ 6:04pm

    I am sorry that you can only see this as being unique to capitalism rather than being ubiquitous among those in power. There is no nation that I know of that is not more Fascist (Mussolini's child) at its center than any other ism. From all that I can see, Fascism is the final devolution of all political systems or non-systems as the case may be. Should you wish to call it a plutocratic mantra, I could not find objection to that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 21st, 2014 @ 8:03pm

    Re: Re: Cyanide Versus Starvation.

    Plants make bargains with animals, so to speak, giving the animals some food in exchange for dispersing the seed. They use poisons, such as cyanide, to police the boundaries of the bargains. My suspicion is that this is why dinosaurs died off. Proto-rats came along, which were much more efficient eaters than dinosaurs, but also able to eat selectively, choosing one gram or another gram of food. The plants had to set limits in terms of the rats, but the dinosaurs were not capable of making the necessary fine distinctions, so everything was poison to them. The rise of mammals and birds was paralleled by the rise of the angiosperms, the flowering plants.

    A common bargain is a fruit which is edible, although the seed is poison. It mostly harms animals with crushing teeth adapted to secure nourishment from grass or tree bark, the classic example being cows.

    In the case of lima beans, cooking breaks down the cyanide, and probably has the same effect as natural decay, or, as the wine ad would have it, "I will sell no wine until it is time." ide-with-those-beans/

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 1:13am

    An interesting question is just how much cyanide is broken down by cooking. Seemingly enough for the occasional side dish, but then there are quite a few plants which are "safe" for occasional inclusion in the diet, but not regular consumption. I pick on lima beans in particular because I strongly dislike them.

    While it sounds cutely anthropomorphic to consider "bargains" being made between different organisms, evolutionary biologist will tell you that there are no truly commensal organisms. Not even those reputed to "eat at the same table." There is no driving force, merely random opportunism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Dan G Difino, May 22nd, 2014 @ 7:43am

    Get some more academic pens out

    Where are all the academic papers on aspartame and fluoride? Why aren't people around the world filled with the knowledge of increasing their PH balance for health? Oh wait, I forgot.. there's no money in restoring health to healthy people.

    My bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 7:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Cyanide Versus Starvation.

    Astroid/comet took out the dinosaurs, baby!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 7:49am


    Uber is an Uber-cool word!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 22nd, 2014 @ 8:02am


    Groaker, do you by chance where a bow tie, usually and fidget with large framed glasses? Do you imagine yourself wearing knickers on a golf course if you were to play golf as a quietude away from your [Gk akademeia]? Just wondering!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 22nd, 2014 @ 8:24am

    Vegetables, to Groaker, #15

    Well, I like most vegetables, it's meat that I'm picky about. Over the last thirty or forty years, things like broccoli, cauliflower, celery, bell peppers, carrots, etc., have gone from being side-dish vegetables to being salad ingredients, and even into these "vegetable cocktail" trays. There's a kind of ongoing exploratory process. I saw some rather pricey Brussels Sprouts in the green-goods counter, packed up in a plastic box, so I asked the greengrocer about them, whether they could be eaten "as-is," and he replied that, no, they were bitter, and needed to be cooked first, and the liquid drained off. Well, I couldn't see doing that to make what would in effect be my own canned vegetables. I'm not a real foodie.

    Come to that, I was looking at an issue of Trains magazine, which had a retrospective special on American railroad food, with assorted reproductions of cartoons, advertisements, menus, etc. Back in the 1940's, a major American railroad's set menu in the dining car consisted of: meat, potatoes, dinner roll and butter, small glass of tomato juice, and coffee. That's more or less the equivalent of a Big Mac combo, but of course, fourteen-year-old kids will eat anything. It wouldn't be acceptable at the Howard Johnson's level, or for airline catering, or anything like that.

    Of course, nowadays, when Amtrak is given some money to play with, they try to do regional cuisine. When they were flush during the Clinton Administration, they did "down home" stuff, eg. Red Beans and Rice on the City of New Orleans train (New Orleans-Chicago), and Tex-Mex Chili on the Texas Eagle (Chicago-San Antonio). When Obama gave them some money, they went "restaurant," for example, a Banana Foster Crepe Purse for breakfast on the Northeast Corridor (marinate bananas in orange juice, wrap the whole business in a pancake, tie it up with a string). They also did Bison Meat Loaf on the Empire Builder (Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 9:08am

    Re: Vegetables, to Groaker, #15

    "he replied that, no, they were bitter, and needed to be cooked first"

    I have never in my life tasted a brussel sprout, cooked or otherwise, that wasn't unpleasantly bitter! The only brussel sprout dish I've ever tasted that approached edible was when the sprouts were cooked and and served in a bowl of melted butter. Even then, the bitterness was unpleasant, but butter is delicious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 2:25pm

    Like broccoli, that is a matter of personal taste. It is reputed that there are so called "supertasters" who experience tastes more intensely than the average person. They are often put off by cruciferous vegetables, and once initiated into that distaste, the preference often sticks for life. An example of that would be brocolli and Bush41.

    There are also significant emotional ties to certain tastes and smells. Disgust for example, is learned not inherent. Most infants and toddlers have no difficulty in detecting fecal and urine odors, but are no more affected by them than a cat or a dog would be. It is the parents, siblings and peers who teach young children that painting with feces on the walls is disgusting. And that feces, used as an artistic medium or not is repugnant.

    I find the thought of hákarl, a Norwegian dish made of fermented shark, repulsive. But apparently the Norwegians enjoy it. I would have no problem with eating a fried grasshopper, but I know many who would be aghast at the thought.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 2:57pm

    Re: Get some more academic pens out

    Yes your very bad. For starters, it is pH, but let that go as a typo.

    Even small modifications of the pH of the various bodily fluids, of a reasonably healthy human, are a terrible idea and possibly quite lethal. Indeed, a pH outside the reference range for humans almost always indicates a profound health disorder.

    The body attempts to maintain hydronium ion concentrations at optimal levels for the functions of metabolic processes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 22nd, 2014 @ 3:02pm

    Re: Re:

    Your febrile imagination is highly faulty, as you got none of them right.

    Your statement though seems to indicate a preference for gut feelings rather than demonstrated fact or likely hypothesis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 22nd, 2014 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Re: Vegetables, to Groaker, #15

    I like cooked Brussels Sprouts, at any rate, without butter, or hollandaise sauce. Of course, that's partly fondness of associations, for school and university lunchrooms, back when life was simpler. I find myself fond of a whole series of things which lend themselves to being served to two hundred people at a sitting, and are therefore favorites of school cooks. Like Turkey Tetrazini.

    I've never had Norwegian fermented shark, but I've had fermented fish sauce, what the Vietnamese call Nuoc Mam, though I got it from a hole-in-the-wall Filipino grocery store. It tasted sort of like a mixture of soy sauce and ripe Limburger cheese. Interesting! Of course, one time, I was buying Limburger cheese in a Safeway in a college town in Oregon. The cashier was a little golden-blonde Skando-American girl, straight out of Lake Wobegone. She looked up at me, and asked, surely I didn't mean to _eat_ this stuff? She assured me, quite seriously, that the sole purpose of Limbuger cheese is to smear on peoples windshields on Halloween.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Groaker (profile), May 23rd, 2014 @ 1:55am

    Fermented fish form the basis of many sauces all over the world. Worcestershire sauce being one of them. But the fermented shark is reputed to be so repulsive that significant amounts of vodka must be consumed in order to work up the courage to eat it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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