The BMJ is not going to retract a 2015 article criticizing the expert report underlying the U.S. dietary guidelines, despite heavy backlash from readers, according to the author of the article.
Teicholz confirmed to us the journal emailed her in April to say the article would not be retracted:
The journal’s reason was that the outside reviewers found that the criticism of the methods used by [Dietary Guidelines for Americans] committee “are within the realm of scientific discussion, and are therefore not grounds for retraction.”
I am obviously relieved. The BMJ’s decision vindicates the view that it’s important to have open debate and discussion over scientific issues, especially when they have such an oversized impact on public health, and even when large, vested interests are at stake.
Soon after the article was published, The BMJ issued a “clarification” to the paper, in the “rapid response” section of the paper (the journal’s version of a comment section). That clarification noted the feature’s criticism that the expert report — which helps form the basis of the U.S. dietary guidelines — suggested “deleting meat from the list of foods recommended as part of its healthy diets” should have specified “lean” meats.
After posting a clarification, the publication issued a formal correction to the article, which didn’t mention the clarification, and instead addressed the research behind the analysis about saturated fats.
A spokesperson for the CSPI forwarded us a series of emails between Director of Nutrition Bonnie Liebman and BMJ editor Fiona Godlee, as Liebman inquired about the status of the article. In March, Liebman wrote:
As you know, the serious questions we raised about factual accuracy of the BMJ feature have now lingered for more than 6 months, and the BMJ article has been used as a cudgel in the U.S. policy debates over the Dietary Guidelines.
See just these two articles about lobbying before the Dietary Guidelines were released and about a rider inserted into Congress’s omnibus spending bill instructing the National Academy of Medicine to review the entire process of developing the Guidelines.
The importance of the BMJ’s timely response to our request for a retraction cannot be overstated.
Godlee told us she couldn’t comment on the report the article would not be retracted:
You can be sure that we will let you know as soon as our review of this matter is complete, which we hope will be very soon.
Liebman told us that she wanted to wait to read the journal’s independent review of the article before reacting to the latest reports:
Until [the review is released], we really don’t know the end of the story. It would be a shame if the media handled the story as if the case is closed, when really it isn’t.
Specifically, Liebman noted that even if the journal doesn’t retract the article, it could correct portions of it to reflect the criticisms it has faced over the last year:
I’m frustrated. It’s been a year since the original article was published, and more than 10 months since more than 180 scientists called for a retraction…Here we are in September, and we still have heard nothing.
That delay has had a lasting impact, noted Liebman:
While The BMJ takes its time in conducting and evaluating the review, the work of the dietary guidelines advisory committee has been under a cloud.
In 2014, based on the advice of an expert panel, The BMJ chose to correct two controversial papers about statins, despite calls for their retraction.
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