They wuz robbed: Editorial TKO for boxing paper leads to retraction, republication

In the blue corner: California researchers who reviewed trends in death rates among professional boxers.

In the red (ink) corner: The editors of Neurosurgery, who misclassified the article, leading to an abbreviated version appearing in print.

The decision: A retraction, followed by a reclassification and republication of the complete article:

This article was incorrectly designated as a Case Report instead of the article type ‘‘Clinical Report,’’ which resulted in the truncated version appearing in print and the full article appearing online only. The journal regrets the error.

So do the authors.

We reached Michael Levy, a neurologist at the University of California, San Diego, who led the study. He was more than a little peeved by the affair:

They blew it. It was an invited paper. It wasn’t a case report — there was no case in it.

Levy said the paper, which he called the first comprehensive analysis of boxing-related mortality, could have been a contender. Well, what he really said he and his colleagues thought it would be an “important” piece of research showing that shorter bouts mandated after the 1982 death of Duk Koo Kim do not seem to have made boxers any safer. “This wasn’t a fix,” he told us. “People are still dying.”

He blamed the snafu on a recent change in editorial management that seemed to have left the offices punchdrunk.

It was entirely their mistake. I’ve never had an experience like this before. There was never an issue with the old editorial staff. They did a shitty job.

Levy, who is on the editorial board of Neurosurgery and has published “more than 20” papers in the journal, said he threatened to take the article to another title but was mollified when the editors said they would reprint it in full. But he said he wasn’t clear that in doing so they would retract the original.

I didn’t realize that it would make us look bad. But I figured it was easier than resubmitting and waiting for another review.

We’ve made several attempts to contact Nelson Oyesiku, Neurosurgery‘s editor-in-chief, but haven’t been able to connect yet. We’ll keep trying.

As Levy said with a mix of exasperation and bemusement:

It’s just so silly.

0 thoughts on “They wuz robbed: Editorial TKO for boxing paper leads to retraction, republication”

  1. Please clarify-Is it the case that Dr. Levy and colleagues submitted a clinical report which had been requested by the journal assuming it would be printed in full not as an abstract? And, that their data is only printed on-line? So that we can not evaluate their conclusions?
    Thank you in advance.

    1. Dear reader (er, mom): The authors believed they had submitted a clinical report, which is what the editors had wanted. But because it was misclassified as a case study — the lack of a case notwithstanding — only a fraction of it was printed, the rest appearing online. The journal is republishing the full manuscript, so all the data will be in one place and evaluable.

      Thanks for the comment (and love to Grandma!).

  2. I must be ignorant of the journal culture here. As a naive citizen, this seems like the journal did an “undo” and re-do correctly, and the authors are miffed. Could you explain a little about what’s the big deal?

    1. Dave — Thanks for your comment. “Undo” retractions probably don’t seem like a big deal to anyone but the authors themselves. And when it happens — as in the case of the boxing paper — because of clerical error, it’s all the more frustrating to have a retraction on your CV.

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