JAMA journal calls for formal investigation into surgery group’s work

A JAMA journal has issued an expression of concern for a 2013 paper after discovering “substantial overlap” with a recently retracted paper in another journal.

In April 2017, the editors of JAMA Otolaryngology − Head & Neck Surgery received allegations that the paper included data that had been published in other journals. After investigating, the editors discovered extensive overlap between several sections of the JAMA paper and a now-retracted 2015 paper by the same group. The 2015 paper, published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons (JACS), was pulled in July 2017, after the editors determined the statistical results were “incorrect” and “the data do not support the conclusions of the article.”

Given the overlap between the two papers, the JAMA editors contacted the University of L’Aquila, where the authors work, to request a formal investigation to evaluate the “integrity of the research.” Jay Piccirillo, the editor of JAMA Otolaryngology − Head & Neck Surgery, told us:

A representative of the university informed us that an investigation is underway. We await the findings of this investigation.

In July, the journal issued an expression of concern to alert readers to potential problems with the 2013 paper.

We contacted the university for an update, but have not heard back.

Mario Schietroma, the corresponding author on both papers, acknowledged his “misinterpretation of the statistical data” in the JACS paper, but said he does not believe the JAMA paper suffers from similar statistical issues. Regarding the overlap, Schietroma explained that, because the two studies examined the same topic and shared primary end points, they required similar designs, analyses, and background information. What’s more, he added, even “the graphic representations are similar” because the team found the therapeutic properties of the two interventions were alike.

Schietroma’s team has two other retractions that cite “similarities” to previously published worka 2013 paper in the Journal of Investigative Surgery, retracted in October 2017, and a 2011 paper in Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, retracted in November 2013. Schietroma was corresponding author on both previous papers.

In the rather detailed expression of concern for “Dexamethasone for the Prevention of Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Palsy and Other Complications After Thyroid Surgery: A Randomized Double-blind Placebo-Controlled Trial,” the journal outlines the timeline of events, concluding:

Following our evaluation, we have concluded that the scientific and ethical concerns raised may have merit and therefore require definitive explanation. We have contacted the University of L’Aquila and requested a formal investigation to evaluate the integrity of the research conducted by Dr Schietroma and colleagues to assess the validity of the reported findings.

In the interim, we publish this Expression of Concern to alert readers to the concerns about this article.

The paper, submitted in April 2012 and published May 2013, has been cited 15 times, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science (including once by the expression of concern). It has not been cited since the JACS paper was retracted in July 2017.

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