It takes decades, and even centuries, to overturn the Catholic canon of law, but medical journals move much more quickly: Just three weeks after the Virology Journal published a paper speculating that a woman described in the Bible as being “cured by our Lord Jesus Christ” had flu, the journal has apologized for ever posting it online.
After bemused — to put it mildly — reactions from bloggers Bob O’Hara (who alerted us to the retraction), P.Z. Myers, and Tara C. Smith, as well as questions from a journal reader, the journal’s editor, Robert F. Garry, posted a retraction to O’Hara’s blog, and in his own journal:
As Editor-in-Chief of Virology Journal I wish to apologize for the publication of the article entitled ”Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”, which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Virology Journal has always operated an exceptionally high standard of thorough peer review; this article has clearly not met these thresholds for balance and supporting data and as such, the article will be retracted. I should like to apologize for any confusion or concern that this article may have caused among our readership, or more widely.
Whilst only ever intended as an opinion piece and also a bit of relief from the ‘normal’ business of the journal, the speculations contained within this article clearly would be better expressed outside the confines of a peer-reviewed journal. Biomed Central does not support any views outlined in this article.
Presumably, this is not what the editors of Virology Journal mean when they call the journal “a strategic alternative to the traditional virology communication process.”
O’Hara’s tongue-in-cheek yet exasperated analysis of the paper is worth the read and deserves the traffic, so I will send you there instead of quote it extensively. But let’s just say it includes a reference to a sentence in the paper pointing out that Luke could not have quantified the woman’s temperature because the Fahrenheit scale was not devised until 1724.
Update, 11:30 a.m. Eastern 8/12/10: The paper’s lead author, Ellis Hon, tells us by email that he did agree to the retraction. He also says he’s done writing such opinion pieces:
I was astonished that our article, submitted initially in the debate section of the journal, had stirred up such negative publicity. As an article for debate, there was no absolute right or wrong answer, and the article was only meant for thought provocation. Neither was it meant to be a debate on the concept of miracles. My only focus at the time of writing was “what had caused the fever and debilitation” that was cured by Jesus. I was especially astonished that so many comments were made outside the scope of the journal. In medical writing, colleagues would usually make comments in the “letter to the editors” and the authors would respond in the subsequent correspondence.
I once again am very sorry to have caused inconvenience to the Journal and anxiety to myself. I think I will never write this type of article any more – not worth the hassles!