Clinical Infectious Diseases retracts antibiotic guidelines after posting uncorrected version

A few days after Clinical Infectious Diseases published a set of guidelines for using antibiotics in patients with cancer and dangerously compromised immune systems, we noticed that they had retracted the paper. The Medline notice read:

Retraction: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Use of Antimicrobial Agents in Neutropenic Patients with Cancer: 2010 Update by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. This guideline was posted ahead of its embargoed date and without corrections incorporated. Oxford University Press apologies for the error.

We’ve written before about using retractions for journal and publisher errors — a heavy-handed approach that leaves us puzzled. We asked Sherwood Gorbach, the CID’s editor for comment. He responded:

This Guideline was retracted as it was published prematurely and before authors had had an opportunity to review the typeset version. Unfortunately, at this stage we did not know if the Guideline was accurate or whether potentially substantive errors had been introduced in the production process. As this paper is a clinical practice guideline which is relied upon for the treatment of patients, we felt that an immediate retraction was required. Our aim was to be transparent in the note accompanying the retraction to ensure it was clear that this was a publishing error.

The early publication was due to an error at one of the Publisher’s suppliers. As you may know, CID recently changed its publisher from the University of Chicago Press to Oxford University Press. This Guideline was one of the first handled by the new publisher and its supplier. Oxford University Press and its supplier have since implemented a more rigorous quality control process to ensure that an error of this nature does not recur. As this is a very rare occurrence, we did not have a protocol for action. We have since developed one and now feel that a temporary withdrawal would have been a better course of action in this case.

As soon as the decision to retract the paper was made, our publisher took the necessary steps to retract it, following the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) Guidance on Retractions.

The publisher is currently reviewing author comments on the typeset version and, once those are complete, and have been thoroughly checked both by the publisher and the editorial office, the final version will be published. We do now know that none of these changes are substantive.

We anticipate that this will be within the next two weeks.

We appreciate that the use of a retraction to temporarily halt publication of an otherwise sound paper is far from ideal; however, given the circumstances, we felt that this was the most responsible course of action.

We agree, of course, on both counts, but would like to see publishers come up with a more appropriate term than “retraction” for such situations.

Sometime in the last several days, the final version of the guidelines was published. Update, 1 p.m. Eastern, 1/25/11: CID tells us the updated guidelines went up Friday night, 1/21/11. Its abstract includes this footnote:

As the result of an error in the publishing process, the version of the manuscript initially posted on the internet on January 4th 2011 was posted prematurely for a total of 10 hours and was not the final version. The final version, shown here, contains slight editing changes. There were no substantive changes to the content or conclusions and no changes in authorship or statements of potential conflict of interest compared to the earlier posted version.

Those ten hours were enough for at least one site to lift the uncorrected abstract and post it. The entire PDF of the final version is available here.

5 thoughts on “Clinical Infectious Diseases retracts antibiotic guidelines after posting uncorrected version”

  1. So, what should it be? “Unpublish,” like undo?

    Funny, in the print world there was a loonnng lag between “Okay, go” and the product being in the world. The only avaiable tool/hammer was retraction. Now “go->out” is instant.

    But is there a propagation issue? Once “go” happens, does the article spread like crazy through databases everywhere?

  2. I moderate the site linked above that posted the uncorrected abstract. The abstract appeared in our PubMed stream on January 4, and I posted it January 6. I was contacted by the publisher on January 25th (actually, in response to this blog post) regarding the retraction and since have removed the post (the new version appears separately). As further demonstration of the point of this post, the link above no longer works because our post has also been “retracted”. And the circle begins again…

    If it is of interest, the original PubMed abstract is at

    Robert J. Mahoney, MD

  3. Well, since Retraction Watch is getting quite a name recognition, I would say why don’t you propose on this blog an alternative word that can be used instead of retraction for these cases?
    I am sure a lot of journals might start to use it… but we have to give some solid inputs.. right?

  4. I agree it would be nice to be able to distinguish admin errors from other types of retraction. Not only would publishers have to agree on the name and format for this, but the indexing systems, such as PubMed would need to follow it — as evidenced by the fact that this was picked up via a PubMed abstract. In this case, the publication was halted rather than stopped, so we maybe need a word like ‘suspension’ or ‘interruption’ to indicate that a correct version will appear later. I quite like ‘suspended’ but that’s just a personal view, not an official COPE one.

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