When the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine retracted four publications (two papers, two abstracts) by Edward Erin, who is now sitting in an English jail for having attempted to poison his mistress to induce an abortion, it appeared that the damage to the medical literature might be far worse. Erin’s name had appeared on many more publications, including five articles published in Clinical & Experimental Allergy (CEA) since 2002.
Prompted by an inquiry from Retraction Watch, CEA conducted an investigation into its Erin publications, reaching out to his co-authors. Today we received an e-mail from Andrew Wardlaw, editor of CEA, informing us of a letter that will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal:
Following an investigation by Imperial College London, and at the request of a group of senior authors (Trevor T. Hansel, Andrew Bush, Onn Min Kon and Peter J Barnes), the AJRCCM has issued a retraction statement (1). This applies to two articles (2,3) and two American Thoracic Society International Conference abstracts (4,5), for which serious data anomalies were identified, and concerns raised regarding the validity of the conclusions.
The research team involved in the above publications has also been partly involved in publications in Clinical and Experimental Allergy (CEA): two articles (6,7) and three commentaries (8,9,10). The investigating committee and authors did not identify anomalies on review of data contained in these 5 CEA publications. Readers of CEA are informed that the published articles in CEA (6-10) are validated and do not require retraction.
1. The Editor: on behalf of the American Thoracic Society. Retraction: retraction of four articles and abstracts. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2011;183:418
2. Erin EM, Leaker BR, Nicholson GC, Tan AJ, Green LM, Neighbour H, Zacharasiewicz AS, Turner J, Barnathan ES, Kon OM, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. The effects of a monoclonal antibody directed against tumour necrosis factor-α in asthma. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2006; 174:753-762.
3. Erin EM, Jenkins GR, Kon OM, Zacharasiewicz AS, Nicholson GC, Neighbour H, Tennant RC, Tan AJ, Leaker BR, Bush A, Jose PJ, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Optimized dialysis and protease inhibition of sputum dithiothreitol supernatants. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2008; 177:132-141.
4. Erin EM, Zacharasiewicz AS, Jose PJ, Williams TJ, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Optimized dialysis to restore immunoreactivity of chemokines and cytokines in sputum supernatants containing dithiothreitol. Abstract: Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2005; 2: A313.
5. Erin EM, Neighbour H, Nicholson GC, Kon OM, Masden PC, Foster MR, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT Post allergen challenge reproducibility and dose response in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Abstract: Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2007; 175: A199.
6. Erin EM, Leaker BR, Zacharasiewicz A, Higgins LA, Nicholson GC, Boyce MJ, de Boer P, Jones RC, Durham SR, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT Effects of a reversible beta-tryptase and trypsin inhibitor (RWJ-58643) on nasal allergic responses. Clin Exp Allergy 2006;36:458-64.
7. Erin EM, Zacharasiewicz AS, Nicholson GC, Tan AJ, Higgins LA, Williams TJ, Murdoch RD, Durham SR, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Topical corticosteroid inhibits interleukin-4,-5 and -13 in nasal secretions following allergen challenge. Clin Exp Allergy 2005;35:1608-14
8. Erin EM, Neighbour H, Tan AJ, Min Kon O, Durham SR, Hansel TT. Nasal testing for novel anti-inflammatory agents. Clin Exp Allergy 2005;35:981-5
9. Erin EM, Barnes PJ, Hansel TT. Optimizing sputum methodology. Clin Exp Allergy 2002;32:653-7.
10. Hansel TT, Erin EM, Barnes PJ. The allergen challenge. Clin Exp Allergy 2002;32:162-7.
As for those “serious data anomalies,” Wardlaw told us that:
As I understand it he manipulated the data, particularly in one particular assay which measured inflammatory mediators, to give a more favourable outcome rather than completely made it up.
Although this development is the opposite of a retraction, we’re happy to report on it nonetheless because it reflects two qualities in journals that we often find lacking: responsiveness and transparency. We commend Wardlaw for running his ship this way, and suggest his handling of the matter could be a model for his colleagues at other publications.
By the way, speaking of transparency, we regret to inform Retraction Watch readers that our last post on Erin apparently got the site blocked in Iran. An Iranian reader let us know the other day, and suggested that the lurid details of the case may have been what caught censors’ eyes.