Just 48 hours after publishing an article by Graham Cole and Darrel Francis last week alleging that Don Poldermans‘ scientific misconduct led to the deaths of some 800,000 Europeans over the past five years by tainting clinical guidelines, the European Heart Journal unceremoniously pulled the paper from its website Friday.
Larry Husten at CardioBrief has been on top of the story. According to Husten:
In an highly unusual move the editor of the European Heart Journal has removed the article by Cole and Francis from the journal. No notification or explanation appears on the website. though the headline is still present. I asked Thomas Lüscher, the EHJ editor, for an explanation. Here is the response I received:
Thank you for your mail. As the editor-in-chief of the Eur. Heart J. I have to inform you that this piece, although published online in CardioPulse contains scientific statements that do require peer-review. Unfortunately, this was bypassed by the handling editor and thus I had to act appropriately and correct this mistake.
The authors have been informed about this measure and will hear from us in the near future as soon as the reviews are in. This does not in any way preclude any decision on the article.
Thank you for your understanding, the administrative mistake is on our side. Please note that the Eur. Heart J. is not a newspaper and hence has to follow the outlined rules of peer review.
In response to a follow-up question, Lüscher added this:
I do hope that you understand that the EHJ is high impact journal with stringent peer review. CardioPulse publishes also non-scientific features on societies, countries and alike which are exempt for that process. In this very case, however, as in some others we had in the past, I instructed the editor in charge to discuss with me first whether this needs peer review. Unfortunately, this slipped his attention. I strongly feel that this is required here and one of the authors already communicated his understanding for this. Peer review has nothing to do with censorship, in fact we do this with 3500 manuscripts per year.
In this case, it also appeared necessary as in the meantime also other articles have appeared on the topic. Furthermore, we cannot discuss this issue without referring to the ongoing process within the ESC.
Francis and Cole sent us this comment:
We are delighted to be invited to comment in Retraction Watch on a disappeared article that narrated the saga of the ESC guideline on perioperative beta blockade. Our only sadness is that the article was ours. By simply multiplying published numbers, we had fallen unknowingly into the trap of making a “scientific statement” which apparently triggered the temporary retraction.
Vigorously espousing reliable approaches to clinical research for examining effect sizes or correlations, our group are all fans of Retraction Watch. We develop high-precision clinical measurement techniques and try to design studies to resist bias. When we see reports that appear in error, we assist the “self-correcting” nature of science, for example by asking for clarification, suggesting improvements, or providing better estimates.
Ironically, while our efforts to have unreliable science retracted face seemingly insuperable hurdles (of which four we can show publically), we have nevertheless somehow unknowingly stumbled upon the hidden trigger that explosively vanishes “scientific” material leaving no trace.
Our short-lived articles
Our first EHJ article is only a narrative of events with a timeline and a figure to give context. It used basic arithmetic on 3 values in the public domain. It is certainly not a meta-analysis: that we published last year under very careful peer review.
This first EHJ article explains that clinical research has vast capacity for good, or for harm. The danger lies when it is converted into guidelines: the “leverage of leadership”. We explained that for every estimate used, other estimates are possible. If the number of excess deaths are fewer than estimated, the scale of potential harm should never be forgotten.
Our second article moves on to how we can all act to improve integrity in clinical science. We focus not on the principal researchers, but on their many unwitting accomplices: co-authors who take an untimely vow of silence, co-workers knowing a trial to be nonexistent, universities desperate to proclaim “no patient was harmed”, teachers who forget that “focus invites fraud”, journal editors who feign impotence, and crucially readers who hurry past a catastrophe looking the other way.
The Editor in Chief very generously became personally involved in our articles, and has written us a very kind letter. Both articles are now undergoing thorough re-evaluation, because they were discovered to contain scientific information.
We are pinning our hopes on Prof Lüscher. His unique outspoken support of reliable medical research make him Europe’s pre-eminent guardian of clinical scientific integrity. Our millions of patients can depend on him as an unimpeachable advocate for their safety.