Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Authors retract two papers on shock therapy, citing language barriers

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the-journal-of-ectAn electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) journal has retracted two 2016 papers after uncovering problems in the data analyses, which the author says were due to language barriers.

Interestingly, two authors of the newly retracted papers — Yu-Tao Xiang from the University of Macau in China and Gabor Ungvari from the University of Western Australia — also recently co-authored another paper on an entirely different topic that has received a lengthy correction. That paper — on the use of organs from executed prisoners in China — raised controversy for allegedly reporting a “sanitized” account of the practice. The correction notice, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, was accompanied by a critics’ rebuttal to the paper.

According to Xiang, the newly retracted papers in The Journal of ECT — which examined the efficacy of ECT in treating schizophrenia — were pulled due to “genuine errors” resulting from differences in language. All the authors agree with the retraction, Xiang noted. 

Xiang told us:

We recognized that the…unintentional errors were due to language competence and may potentially bias the results of the data analyses. There was no intention of any authors to submit misleading data, and we would have most certainly corrected the mistakes had they been brought to our attention by the initial journal reviewers.

Here’s the first of the retraction notices, both of which are similar and were issued on September 7:

The editor and publisher have requested a retraction of “Electroconvulsive Therapy Alone for Schizophrenia: A Meta-analysis of Randomized, Single-blind, Controlled Trials” by Zheng, Wei MD; Xiang, Ying-Qiang MD, PhD; Ungvari, Gabor S. MD, PhD; Ng, Chee H. MD; Chiu, Helen F.K. FRCPsych; Liu, Zheng-Rong MD; Cao, Xiao-Lan MD, PhD student; Guo, Tong MD; Wang, Harry H.X. PhD; Seiner, Stephen J. MD; Xiang, Yu-Tao MD, PhD, published ahead of print on May 25, 2016 in The Journal of ECT. A second-level and then a third-level review of this paper revealed problems in data analysis that require us to retract this paper.

For this paper, Xiang said, two additional papers were mistakenly omitted in the literature search, even though they didn’t contain useful data. When asked why this was a problem, Xiang noted that for meta-analyses, 

all relevent studies need to be found, recorded and screened for eligibility in the “Course of Study” in the manuscript no matter if there are meta-analyzable data.

And here’s the retraction notice for “Adjunctive Electroconvulsive Therapy for Schizophrenia: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Rater-Masked Controlled Trials:” 

The editor and publisher have requested a retraction of “Adjunctive Electroconvulsive Therapy for Schizophrenia: A Meta-analysis of Randomized Rater-Masked Controlled Trials” by Zheng, Wei MD; Xiang, Yu-Tao MD, PhD; Tang, Yi-Lang MD, PhD; Xiang, Ying-Qiang MD, PhD; Li, Xian-Bin MD, PhD; Cao, Xiao-Lan MD; Guo, Tong MD; Liu, Zheng-Rong MD; Chiu, Helen F.K. FRCPsych; Ungvari, Gabor S. MD, PhD; de Leon, Jose MD, published ahead of print on July 16, 2016 in The Journal of ECT. A second-level and then a third-level review of this paper revealed problems in data analysis that require us to retract this paper.

Xiang explained that for this paper,

two Chinese-speaking researchers misunderstood some contents and made several errors when they extracted data from English literature. Later, the other authors, as well as the journal reviewers, overlooked these errors in the review and revision process.

Alongside the papers, the journal also planned to publish a commentary on the subject, said Xiang, and therefore invited independent researchers to recheck the quality of data that was extracted from publications included in the meta-analyses. Additionally, the authors asked an independent bilingual researcher to recheck the quality of data extraction and literature search. These reviewers identified errors in the data analyses, which resulted in the retractions, Xiang noted. 

He added:

The other authors and the journal reviewers had not picked up these errors in the first level review and revision process, and hence the paper was accepted.

We’ve reached out to The Journal of ECT for further details, and will update the post with anything else we learn.

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