JAMA authors have retracted — and replaced — a 2014 paper about the mental health effects of household moves on kids, after they found errors while completing an additional analysis.
The original paper concluded that in “families who moved out of high-poverty neighborhoods, boys experienced an increase and girls a decrease in rates of depression and conduct disorder,” according to a press release issued by the journal along with the paper (which also got some press attention from Reuters). But part of that conclusion is wrong.
we inadvertently reported incorrect confidence intervals and a P value in 2 tables. This study explored the associations between 2 types of vouchers given to volunteer public housing families to encourage them to move out of high-poverty neighborhoods (when children were 0-8 years old) and no intervention and subsequent mental disorders in 2872 adolescents (at age 13-19 years).
The errors were due to failure to update results from an earlier set of models. These errors were discovered in the course of rechecking the code in conjunction with a secondary analysis. We have corrected these errors and confirmed that there are no other errors after reviewing our original analysis and findings. The corrections for these errors have changed 1 of the major findings of the study: the previously reported statistically significant reduction in major depressive disorder in girls was not statistically significant. Thus, we have requested that the original article be retracted and replaced.
In the notice, the authors explain the correct data in detail — and how they alter the conclusion:
The corrections for these errors indicate that the previously reported statistically significant reduction in major depressive disorder in girls was not statistically significant, and this result has been removed from the conclusion of the article. The article now concludes: “Interventions to encourage moving out of high-poverty neighborhoods were associated with increased rates of depression, [post-traumatic stress disorder], and conduct disorder among boys and a reduced rate of conduct disorder among girls. Better understanding of interactions among individual, family, and neighborhood risk factors is needed to guide future public housing policy changes.”
They note that their errors could have effects outside of academia:
We regret these errors as well as the confusion caused to JAMA, readers, and potentially to public housing policy planners.
The finding that boys in households receiving moving vouchers experience an increase in PTSD — which remains the same in the replacement paper — was the subject of a 2014 Comment and Response in JAMA. Another researcher calls the finding “paradoxical;” in his response, first author Ronald Kessler, who works at Harvard University, notes it’s long been known that:
community contexts can influence interpretations of traumatic experiences and that the effects of these experiences on PTSD vary with the extent to which the experiences shatter deeply held world views about such things as community safety and justice.
Although we don’t see many journals retract and replace papers, it’s become more common at JAMA journals. For instance, in April, JAMA Psychiatry did the same for a study about depression that failed to account for some patient recoveries, among other mistakes. In our post about that retraction, we quoted Annette Flanagin, the Executive Managing Editor for The JAMA Network, who pointed us to an editorial that explains the decision. She told us in April:
As we stated when we announced our policy on use of retraction and replacement in an Editorial 2015, “Retractions are typically reserved for articles that have resulted from scientific misconduct, such as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism, or from pervasive error for which the results cannot be substantiated”…In this case, inadvertent errors resulted in changes to some of the findings, although the general conclusions of the study are unchanged. As we also noted in that Editorial, errors do occur, and if the errors are pervasive and result in a major change in the direction or significance of the findings, interpretations, and conclusions, and the science is considered reliable, we will consider retraction and replacement as an effective approach to ensuring transparency and an accurate scientific record.
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