Double dipping on trial data topples 17-year-old macular degeneration article

redjournalThe authors of a 1997 paper on macular degeneration have lost the article after readers noticed uncanny similarities with a 1996 publication from several of the same authors.

The retracted article, “Radiation therapy for macular degeneration: Technical considerations and preliminary results,” appeared in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics — otherwise known as the “Red Journal.” The first author, Luther W. Brady, is a leading U.S. oncologist.

According to the retraction notice:

Two consecutive papers were published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics in 1996 and 1997 [1,2]. Both described the treatment of macular degeneration with radiation therapy. The first presented data from a single institution pilot study and the second the results of a larger multi-institutional study. The data presented in the second study were identical to those in the first and it thus appears that the wrong data were selected for the writing of the second publication. As 17 years have elapsed since that paper was published, it is no longer possible to retrieve the original data from the multi-institutional study in order to publish an erratum. The senior authors of the article and the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics believe that, as the scientific record cannot be corrected, concerns regarding the second article will remain. The second article [2] must, therefore, be retracted.

Anthony L. Zietman, MD, FASTRO

Luther W. Brady, MD, FASTRO

 Zietman, editor of the Red Journal, patiently walked us through what went wrong here.

The data in paper #2 is exactly the same as the data in paper #1 to the decimal place. The only number that changed was the n of the patients. This is simply an impossibility whether or not the pilot data were included in the multi-institutional study. I suspect what happened is that they simply took all the data from the pilot and inadvertently used it again rather than using the real data from the multi-institutional study. Difficult to imagine how that happened but there it is. If they had been able to supply me with the real multi-institutional data then I could have substituted that in as a “mega-erratum”, but that data had been lost over the 15 years.

I did, of course, make sure that the multi-institution study actually took place, which it had!

Zietman added that:

the second paper was still being cited and this kind of treatment for this particular disease may yet make a comeback so it struck me as essential to clean the record. The error was picked up by eagle-eyed readers from Australia.

As for those citations, the 1996 article has been cited 44 times, while the 1997 paper has been cited 26 times, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

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