Monday, 8 May 2017

Journal retracts controversial paper on dangers of microplastics to fish

Researchers behind study, which may have helped cement case for banning microbeads, found guilty of scientific misconduct

Hannah Devlin
Thursday 4 May 2017
A landmark paper claiming to show the devastating impact of microplastics on fish has been retracted after an investigation found the authors guilty of scientific misconduct.
The study, published in the prestigious journal Science, claimed that fish became “smaller, slower and more stupid” when exposed to tiny plastic fragments in the marine environment. It also suggested that perch larvae favour eating plastic over their natural prey “like teenagers eating junk food”. 

Widespread media coverage of the work in June last year may have helped cement the case for banning microbeads in cosmetics, making the retraction particularly uncomfortable for the journal. 

Previously, there had been clear evidence that marine organisms swallow microplastics and that high concentrations of these fragments are harmful to fish in laboratory work. The retracted study was one of very few to explicitly show that microplastics are harmful at levels found in the marine environment.

However, scientists say there is still compelling evidence to back legislation banning tiny plastic beads that are widely used in toiletries and cosmetics.

The controversy centres on work that was carried at a research station on Gotland, a Baltic Sea island, by Oona Lönnstedt, a scientist based at Uppsala University. Two other Swedish marine scientists, who had worked alongside Lönnstedt at the station, noticed discrepancies between the investigation detailed in the paper and the work they had witnessed, and raised the alarm with Sweden’s Central Ethical Review Board.

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