“Statins May Cut Glaucoma Risk,” said a New York Times headline. But is that true?

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Last year, JAMA Ophthalmology published a study that claimed to find a link between using cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins and a reduced risk of glaucoma. In a New York Times story on the paper, lead author

Jae H. Kang, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, suggested that statins reduce pressure in the eye, help maintain good blood flow and may help protect the optic nerve.

But Kang came to realize, while reviewing the results for another study, that her research had a major error, as she writes in a letter accompanying the retraction and replacement of the study. Kang tells Retraction Watch:

What happened was an inadvertent coding error that resulted in erroneous results. I discovered the error when the program for that paper was modified and used for another project.

In the original paper, our team reported that longer statin use was associated with a lower risk of primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), while higher cholesterol levels was associated with a higher risk of POAG. For this analysis, I pooled the actual data from 3 different studies (NHS, NHS2, HPFS) into 1 dataset.

The reason for the retraction was that I realized that there was a serious flaw in all the analyses, where adjustment for age and period at risk was actually not done (despite my stating that it was done in the publication). When I corrected all the programs and properly adjusted for age and period at risk, the associations all went away and thus, we contacted the Journal of Ophthalmology to self-retract the study. The journal allowed us to do a retract-and-replacement with the corrected results.

In other words, as the new version of the paper concludes:

Among adults aged 40 years or older, higher self-reported total serum cholesterol levels and statin use compared with never use of statins were not associated with risk of POAG.

JAMA Ophthalmology also corrected an editorial that had accompanied the article’s original publication.

The New York Times was not the only major news outlet to cover the findings. So did Reuters Health. (The Times story did not earn high marks from Health News Review, which noted that the results did not justify the cause-effect language in the headline.) And the American Optometric Association wrote about the paper.

Kang said that she is working with the Brigham and Women’s media office “to contact all the reporters that I talked to about the study to inform them about the retraction.”

Of note: Because the JAMA journals use the same DOI — digital object identifier — for retracted and replaced articles, links from the Times and elsewhere to the study now appear to contradict the stories.

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One thought on ““Statins May Cut Glaucoma Risk,” said a New York Times headline. But is that true?”

  1. This may be famous last words, or at least some I need to eat some time down the line, but please: Don’t people look at their data anymore before they publish? Cadeaux to Kang’s honesty but still, should these numbers not have been looked at upside down, back and forth, left and right before publication? We are talking people’s health, after all. In other cases even their life.
    Not to speak of the need to reproduce data before publication…
    Where are the referees in this story, btw?

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