Late last year, news stories trumpeted the findings: Older women who received surgery to fix their cataracts were less likely to die over the course of a study period.
Now, the same group of authors is saying the exact opposite may be true.
Last week, the researchers retracted their 2017 paper in JAMA Ophthalmology and replaced it with an updated version that reports that women who received the surgery actually had a higher risk of dying.
The original paper was covered by many news outlets — including Reuters and the New York Times — some of which suggested the procedure may help with more than just vision (even though the study, by its nature, couldn’t determine whether or not surgery caused women to live longer). Annette Flanagin, the Executive Managing Editor for The JAMA Network, told us the publisher tried to get the word out about the significant change to the findings:
The Notice of Retraction and Replacement and a PDF of it was available to news media on the JAMA Network For the Media site 2 days before the embargo. Anyone who sees the article from an old news story and selects the link to the article will see the corrected version.
Nancy Lapid, the editor in charge of Reuters Health, told us they were going to update their 2017 news story, and hadn’t seen the retraction before we contacted them. Lapid said that the retraction was listed under the “Comment & Response” section of the JAMA Network, news release materials — a section that rarely contains anything of interest to the news service — instead of in the “Original Investigation” section.
“Association of Cataract Surgery With Mortality in Older Women” has been cited twice since it appeared online in November 2017, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science.
Retract and Replace is a tool many journals use — and two years ago, Flanagin spoke to us about how it might appear more in JAMA journals, in cases where the findings were affected by honest error, not misconduct. We asked Flanagin if the journal considered retracting the paper outright, given that the findings — and their potential implications — had changed so dramatically. She told us:
Our standard process for assessment of authors’ inadvertent pervasive error that affected study results was followed. The study was not invalid and was not a result of misconduct.
We contacted last author Anne Coleman at the University of California, Los Angeles, but haven’t heard back.
According to the detailed retraction notice, the authors were contacted by a reader with questions about the results. This prompted the authors to take a second look, when they realized:
…the time-to-event variable for the exposed group (women with cataract surgery) was mistakenly defined as time since the date of surgery rather than the date of diagnosis for this model.
The authors have now replaced the original version of the paper with a corrected one:
These results now indicate that cataract surgery was associated with a higher risk for all-cause mortality and mortality attributed to multiple causes of death, except for neurologic-related causes of death….We regret the errors in our definition of the time-to-event for the women with cataract surgery and in our incorrect analyses and any confusion this has caused the readers of our article…The abstract, text, and Tables 2, 3, and 5 in the original article have been corrected and replaced online.
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