Labor pains study brought into this world twice

YJPAI_v16_i6_COVER.inddA group of authors published two articles about one study on pain during childbirth, so one journal is retracting it.

This may seem like a standard case of salami slicing — but this one comes with a nearly 600-word commentary co-authored by the editors of the two journals in question.

The commentary lays out — in a refreshingly transparent way — exactly why the journals came to a joint decision to retract one of the papers:

The main concern that resulted in the joint editorial decision by The Journal of Pain and Psychosomatic Medicine was the failure of the authors to inform the journals of the simultaneously submitted articles with potential overlap, which resulted in the editors and reviewers not being able to conduct a fully informed scientific evaluation of the manuscripts. Neither Psychosomatic Medicine nor The Journal of Pain would have considered the respective articles for publication had the editors been aware that the other article with overlapping information was also being considered for publication elsewhere.

So The Journal of Pain retracted “Attachment styles, pain, and the consumption of analgesics during labor: a prospective observational study.” Here’s the retraction notice:

This article has been retracted at the request of the Editor-in-Chief. This article published in The Journal of Pain has significant overlap with an article published prior in Psychosomatic Medicine (Costa-Martins JM, Pereira M, Martins H, Moura-Ramos M, Coelho R, Tavares J. The role of maternal attachment in the experience of labor pain: a prospective study. Psychosom Med, 76(2014) 221-228, The amount of overlap between the two articles was determined to be inconsistent with the publication guidelines adhered to by The Journal of Pain.

The retracted paper has been cited four times, including once by its retraction, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.

The other paper, “The role of maternal attachment in the experience of labor pain: a prospective study,” published in Psychosomatic Medicine, is staying published as is. It has received two citations.

Just looking at the abstracts of the two articles, the similarities are apparent: The articles share an identical list of authors, and each paper recorded pain during labor in 81 women, and used the same scale to assess attachment to the new child.

The conclusion of the Psychosomatic Medicine paper: “The study findings suggest that perceived labor pain and anesthetic use are strongly associated with attachment, rather than demographic and physical factors.”

The conclusion of the The Journal of Pain paper:” This study showed that women with an insecure attachment style were more likely to report higher pain before patient-controlled epidural analgesia and higher analgesic consumption and to request supplemental analgesia during labor.”

Pain EIC Mark Jensen told us how the duplication came to light:

I first heard about it via an email note from the editor of the other journal.  He did not indicate in that note how he had learned about the apparent significant overlap between the two papers.

Since I have been the editor of the journal (Jan 2010), this issue has not been raised with a regularly published article.  It did emerge with a  letter to the editor (which evidenced significant overlap with a number of letters to the editor that had been published in other journals), however.  We also retracted the letter.  In short, it is very rare.

Jensen and the Editor-in-Chief of Psychosomatic Medicine, Willem J. Kop, co-wrote the commentary that explains the reasoning behind the retraction:

The editors of both journals have discussed the issue of duplicate publication and followed guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) to address this issue. This is a joint communication from the editors that is published in both journals to clarify the issue and provide guidance to authors regarding duplicate and piecemeal publication.

The overlap between the two publications was substantial, and the editors of the journals determined that two separate publications based on this single study unnecessarily diluted the scientific literature. In accordance with the COPE guidelines, the editors presented their concerns related to duplicate publication to the authors. The authors provided the editors with a prompt and thorough response outlining the differences and overlap between the two articles. Upon evaluating the two articles and the authors’ response, as indicated above, The Journal of Pain has retracted the article.

They also explain why they are not retracting both articles:

The role of maternal attachment in the experience of labor pain: a prospective study. Psychosom Med 2014;76(3):221–8) will not be retracted based on the following conclusions made by both editors: a) we consider the reported findings relevant and there is no indication of poor quality of the research data; b) retaining one article will maximize the scientific merits and contribution to the literature based on this investigation; and c) retracting both articles would result in a loss of information.

We contacted José Manuel Costa-Martins, the first author on both papers, who was based at the University of Porto in Portugal during the research. We will update if we hear back.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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