Why was that paper retracted? Editor to Retraction Watch: “It’s none of your damn business”
an investigation by the University of Florida, which uncovered instances of repetitious, tabulated data from previously published studies.
Today, we are slightly more clear, although what we really got was an earful of other language.
We had the pleasure of speaking this morning with L. Henry Edmunds, Jr., the long-time editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, who gave us a better sense of why his retraction notice was so delicately worded. Edmunds, responding to question of why the letter didn’t say more about the matter:
It’s none of your damn business.
Ranting against “journalists and bloggists,” Edmunds, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania, said the purpose of the retraction notice was merely
to inform our reader that the article is retracted.
Curiosity and details be damned! After all, he added,
If you get divorced from your wife, the public doesn’t need to know the details.
Sarah Palin’s coterie couldn’t have said it better. And when it comes to the separation of life’s grit from public personae, we get that sentiment. Unfortunately for Edmunds, however, we’re talking science, not politics. How well would it go over if a researcher’s results section read like this:
I cured cancer. Don’t worry about the data.
We’re sure Edmunds wouldn’t accept such a manuscript. So why does he think his readers should get that treatment?
To be sure, we’re not insisting that Edmunds disclose the details of the Florida investigation, although we’d certainly like to know about that, and have contacted the university. But obscuring the nature of the offense and then refusing to help clear up the ambiguities — even if the situation is unclear only to a couple of addled “bloggists” — is a different animal entirely.
By the way, we fared somewhat better with the paper’s lead author, anesthesiologist Felipe Urdaneta. Urdaneta told us that the researchers had “mistakenly” used a data set from previous work of theirs. “It was not plagiarism,” he said. Urdaneta said the university had “exonerated” him in its investigation, but did not know about the fates of his coauthors.
Update, 12:30 p.m. Eastern, 1/5/10: In response to requests for the original interview, including a comment below, here’s a transcript of the conversation Adam had with Edmunds. It’s verbatim except where we’ve noted it was garbled, and what we write in italics at the end.
RW: We have a post up today about the retraction in your journal of the paper by the Florida group. I wanted to ask you about the retraction notice, which we think is a little vague. We were wondering why you chose to word it the way you did …
Edmunds: That’s none of your damn business. That’s a transaction between the journal and the authors.
RW: But the notice …
Edmunds: If you get divorced from your wife, the public doesn’t need to know the details. It’s you journalists and bloggists who … [garbled]
RW: Don’t you think your readers might want to know about …
Edmunds: Our notice is designed to inform our reader that the article is retracted.
RW: Yes, but …
Edmunds: This is a very unpleasant problem. The University of Florida conducted an investigation.
Edmunds then said something to the effect of “That’s all I’m going to say about this.”