Cancer researcher Alfredo Fusco has been facing potential criminal charges in Italy for research misconduct for more than five years, including accusations that his lab at the University of Naples used a photo studio to doctor images in his published papers. Meanwhile, Fusco’s body of work continues to crumble. Last month, journals retracted six more of his articles, bringing his total number of retractions to 21 (the researcher also has at least 10 corrections). Fusco has denied wrongdoing, but for reasons that aren’t clear, Italian police have yet to act in the case.
It’s also unclear why it’s taken journals so long to retract the obviously flawed work. Sometimes, the bureaucratic process of correcting scientific errors simply grinds quietly along, without clarifying to the outside world precisely what went wrong. In September, Christine Rullo, the publisher of the journal that just retracted six of Fusco’s papers, wrote in an editorial that “Unfortunately, we have been delayed in correcting the published record, and for this we apologize.” She did not give a reason. Neither the delay nor the lack of clarity is, however, unusual when it comes to investigations of scholarly malfeasance.