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The polemic article

In a unilateral manner, the magazine cancelled the work of the Brazilians concerning Chagas' disease

As happens at times, the magic spell can come back to fall on the wizard himself. If the magazine Cell, one of the most respected international magazines in the area of living sciences, wanted to discredit the article published in its July 23rd 2004 edition, by the team led by the medical doctor Antonio Teixeira, from the University of Brasilia (UnB), then the manner with which the case was dealt was perhaps not one of the most transparent, nor efficient in its aims. Putting an end to months of negotiation with the Brazilian authors of the study in question, which had provided the first evidence that strips of the genome of the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, which is the cause of Chagas disease, could incorporate themselves into the DNA of animals, including man, the magazine cancelled the validity of the article in a communication of two paragraphs, around 120 words, given out on September 23rd of this year. It did this without the consent and without presenting any explicit reasons for its behavior. The unilateral procedure ended up generating criticisms in relation to the Cell’s editorial policy and threw even more light upon the study made by the researchers from Brasilia.

The magazine argued that, “after a careful and extensive revision of the data (of Teixeira) by independent specialists in the area”, it was forced to withdraw the article because there had been doubts concerning the locality of the host DNA in which the genome of the parasite had lodged itself. But they did not present any evidence of fraud, ethical straying or poor conduct by the Brazilian team that drafted out the polemic article, situations that normally are invoked when a publication resolves to cancel a researcher’s writings. The scientific community, both Brazilian and international, found the conduct of the Cell strange and publicly complained in reports and articles that came out in the communication media both here and abroad. The reaction led to the editor of the Cell, Emilie Marcus, to return to the question in a longer text, the editorial in the edition of October 21st of last month, entitled “Retraction controversy”. The result of the polemic situation: the cancelled article, that which was not good science according to the magazine, became the second best read article on the site of the magazine itself and the explanatory editorial come in at 11th place on the same list at the end of last month.

A 63-year old from the state of Bahia,  Teixeira has been developing the research line that resulted in the article in the Cell for more than a decade and a half ago. He says that he is perplexed with the unfolding of the events, including the reactions of solidarity that he received from colleagues in Brazil and outside the country. “I could never have imagined that the arrogant attitude of the magazine could sensitize so many people in the world”, affirmed the UnB researcher, who defends the validity of his data. “Other laboratories are attempting to reproduce our results.” Time, as always, will tell who is correct.

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