JAMA journal retracts paper when author can’t produce original data

In July 2017, a JAMA journal called for an investigation into a 2013 paper it had published after concluding that the article had “scientific and ethical concerns.” Now the journal, JAMA Otolaryngology − Head & Neck Surgery, is retracting the paper.

The article, “Dexamethasone for the prevention of recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy and other complications after thyroid surgery: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial,” came from a group in Italy led by Mario Schietroma, of the Department of Surgery at the University of L’Aquila, in Abruzzo, Italy. Schietroma, who in December admitted to us that a retracted 2015 paper of his in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons suffered from “misinterpretation of the statistical data,” now has four retractions.

The paper has been cited a total of 18 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science, including twice since it was subjected to an expression of concern. One of those citations was by a Cochrane systematic review.

According to the retraction notice:

On July 21, 2017, we issued a notice of Expression on Concern about the article “Dexamethasone for the Prevention of Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Palsy and Other Complications After Thyroid Surgery: A Randomized Double-blind Placebo-Controlled Trial” that was published in JAMA Otolaryngology−Head & Neck Surgery in May 2013.

In April 2017, we had received an allegation that the data included in this article were also included in similar articles published in other journals. The editor of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons had retracted one of these articles3 after an independent statistical analysis determined that “the statistical results are incorrect and the data do not support the conclusions of the article.” As previously reported, we had compared the article published in JAMA Otolaryngology−Head & Neck Surgery in 2013 with the retracted article published in Journal of the American College of Surgeons in 2015. The 2 articles report randomized placebo-controlled trials on interventions to prevent recurrent laryngeal nerve palsy after thyroid surgery. There is substantial overlap in the Methods, Results, and Discussion sections of these articles.

Following our evaluation, we concluded that the scientific and ethical concerns raised had merit and required definitive explanation, and we issued the notice of Expression of Concern to alert readers. We contacted the University of L’Aquila and requested a formal investigation to evaluate the integrity of the research conducted by Dr Schietroma and colleagues to assess the validity of the reported findings. The university appointed an independent committee to investigate and requested the original data set and original approval of the protocol experiment by the ethical committee. Neither have been provided by Dr Schietroma, and the university has informed us that “without those pieces of information the results of the papers under investigation cannot be validated.”

Neither Schietroma nor his institution responded to requests for comment.

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