Errors, phantom author, retraction? It’s enough to set your teeth on edge


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Authorship issues, sloppy science, deception — more often than not, at least one of these is at the heart of a retracted paper. But it’s rare when all three are involved. Which, of course, means that such a case is precisely what we’re about to deliver.

The Journal of Medical Case Reports, a BioMed Central title, recently retracted an intriguing item about a young man who developed a condition called pubic osteomyelitis after becoming infected with Streptococcus viridans following oral surgery to pull a wisdom tooth. As the authors, from Great Britain, explained in their 2008 paper describing the episode:

Pubic osteomyelitis should be suspected in athletic individuals with sudden groin pain, painful restriction of hip movements and fever. It is an infrequent and confusing disorder, which is often heralded by atypical gait disturbance and diffuse pain in the pelvic girdle. The most common pathogen is Staphylococcus aureus but, on occasions, efforts to identify infectious agents sometimes prove negative. Pubic osteomyelitis due to Streptococcus viridans has not been reported previously in the literature.

The novelty of the case, according to the authors, should prompt clinicians to be on the lookout for similar episodes.

Pubic osteomyelitis is a challenging diagnostic dilemma. We believe that this novel observation should alert physicians to the association between dental procedures and pubic osteomyelitis due to S. viridans. It is important to take a history of dental extraction in all patients who present with fever and pelvic pain. It is also important to investigate patients with MRI scans as X-rays are neither sensitive nor specific enough for detecting osteomyelitis. Changes in plain radiographs of the pubic bone usually appear only several weeks after the clinical presentation of osteomyelitis and therefore are not reliable in making the diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent subsequent deformities of the pelvic bones and morbidity due to chronic osteomyelitis and joint deformities.

Except, perhaps not. In an unusual note, the editors of JMCR state that the authors have taken it all back. Why? It turns out that they didn’t intend to publish their report after all.

BioMed Central is publishing a retraction of this article because the article was published in error. The case report contained erroneous details of the patient’s presentation and not all original authors agreed to publish.

Stranger still, the note adds:

[Sushmita Pearce] had no involvement whatsoever with this article and was never consulted prior to its publication. BioMed Central apologizes to the readers for the error, and to the authors for any inconvenience caused.

We tried to reach Pearce to discuss the paper but haven’t received a reply yet.

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