Surgery journal retracts two papers it didn’t mean to publish

The Annals of Surgery has retracted two papers it never intended to publish.

According to journal’s editor, Keith Lillemoe, the papers—published in 2015, two months apart—had undergone full peer review and were rejected, “like 90% of submissions to our journal:”

The decision was clear and the authors were notified.

But somehow, Lillemoe said, “our publishing team mistakenly published the papers and placed them into [e-pub] status totally unbeknownst to the editorial team.”

The authors of one paper told us they were unhappy with how the journal handled the situation.

Lillemoe noted:

The bottom line is the papers were clear rejections, placed into e pub by mistake and retraction was the only option as publishing poor quality papers was not acceptable.  

Here’s the retraction notice for “Diagnosis and Treatment of Intestinal Melanoma Metastases in the Era of Effective Systemic Treatment:” 

Despite the editor’s decision not to publish, the article was published online. The article is now retracted for that reason and will not be available for citation.

The paper, published online on April 1, 2015 by a group of surgeons at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, has not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

The retraction notice for the second paper—“Measuring Postoperative Complications: On the Right Path but Far Away From the Destination” —is almost identical, but also acknowledges that the retraction is due to “a publisher error.”

This paper—published online on June 1, 2015 by Rajesh Panwar and Peush Sahini, who work at All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi—has also not yet been indexed by Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.

Panwar told us:

We are very disappointed at the retraction of the manuscript even though it is a publisher error.

He added:

We want to clarify that we did nothing to cause or facilitate this error. We had duly and timely contacted the journal by e-mail (within one day) when we received an acceptance letter from the publisher around two months after the notification of non-acceptance. We were informed that some glitch in the system has caused this.

After the journal discovered the articles were published online, Lillemoe explained:

… I felt the papers were not of the quality that we want to publish in Annals and didn’t feel that publication due to an error in the system was appropriate. Unfortunately the alternative was retraction and an explanation was provided.

We also asked Lillemoe for his thoughts on the fact that retracting the papers could hurt the authors. Lillemoe told us:

I guess my view is that to publish something for the wrong reason doesn’t help anyone.   Better to clarify and allow them to move on than to credit them inappropriately.

Panwar also told us:

We just want to state that the journals should have very rigorous mechanisms in place to prevent such errors as they cause unnecessary trouble to the authors.

In late 2016, Retraction Watch’s Ivan Oransky and Adam Etkin, executive editor at Springer Publishing Co, discussed how retractions due to publisher errors can potentially hurt researchers’ chances for a job or promotion.

We’ve seen other examples of publisher hiccups that have led to retractions. For instance, in 2013, the Journal of Translational Medicine retracted a 2012 paper after the editors discovered they had accidentally published it twice.

The Annals of Surgery recently made news after it published—then retracted—a paper describing surgeons with only male pronouns, which the editor attributed to translation errors (the paper was based on a talk delivered in Polish).

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5 thoughts on “Surgery journal retracts two papers it didn’t mean to publish”

  1. So the Annals of Surgery made an error and their response was to:

    (1) Jeapordize the ability of the authors to publish their article anywhere else. Which journal will publish an article published somewhere else and subsequently retracted? Nevermind when they have been publicly described by the editor of a major journal as “poor quality”.

    (2) Threaten the authors’ reputation as a retraction always looks to be bad news at first sight.

    I’m pretty certain that this could have been handled more tactfully by Annals.

      1. The paper should have been withdrawn and purged from the scientific record. Retractions must not be used for editorial screw-ups.

      2. Almost anything else. How is this a reasonable solution? The journal screws up and simultaneously advertises submission of a low quality manuscript (in their opinion) and saddles the authors with a retraction on the record. The journal owed it to the authors to do better.

  2. I agree with TL.

    COPE should have a withdrawal category.

    Retractions and Expressions of Concern should be for ethical reasons.

    Corrections should be reserved for honest errors by the authors, not for covering up misconduct.

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