Authors of meta-analysis on heart disease retract it when they realize a NEJM reference had been retracted

Carl Heneghan

The authors of a meta-analysis on predicting cardiovascular disease have retracted the paper because it included a study that was retracted between the time they submitted their article and the date it was published. 

If only there were a repository of retracted articles that authors and editors could check to see if the references in the studies they publish are still reliable.

Wait, we have one of those!

The meta-analysis, titled “24-h ambulatory blood pressure versus clinic blood pressure as predictors of cardiovascular risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies,” appeared earlier this year in the Journal of Hypertension. The authors were a team from China and the United Kingdom led by Carl Heneghan, of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford. 

Heneghan and his colleagues submitted their paper in late November 2019, which means they had no way of knowing that one of the studies they’d included — a 2018 paper in The New England Journal of Medicine — was on the verge of retraction

But in April, when the Oxford group’s manuscript was accepted, the NEJM study had been retracted for about three months. Time enough, we think, to have avoided this, if systems were in place: 

The authors have requested the retraction of their paper [1] because they were informed that one of the studies [2] included in their systematic review and meta-analysis has been retracted [3]. The authors were unaware that this study [2] had been retracted while completing and submitting their review of the literature for publication. The Editor has agreed, and the article is retracted.

Heneghan told us that his group requested to retract their paper “as soon as we were made aware” of the NEJM retraction, which was on November 9:

It is essential systematic reviews are not published with retracted data – and they should be withdrawn soon as any included retracted papers are identified 

With the Covid issues we missed this 

Having retracted this review I consider it is essential  to run-reviews through a retraction database 

To which we say, yea, verily!

Meanwhile, Heneghen added that he is now thinking about: 

how we can now make this an essential part of our review process and add it into our training – if you have any materials that would help us think through how we go about this that would help 

Journals should also do this at the time of publication – similar to plagiarism checking 

For historical systematic reviews the onus should be on the journal to retract and there needs to be a mechanism for journals to do this 

Igho Onakpoya, the corresponding author of the paper, says he and his colleagues plan to correct and resubmit their meta-analysis for publication: 

We have been in touch with the authors of the primary study that was retracted and are awaiting their revised data. 

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4 thoughts on “Authors of meta-analysis on heart disease retract it when they realize a NEJM reference had been retracted”

  1. Very unfortunate indeed. I shared this article because it provides an answer to a ResearchGate question I raised in June 2014.

  2. In theory, a strong search strategy should retrieve any retractions, because they are appropriately indexed and the search is comprehensive. But of course, it wouldn’t cover retractions made after the search was completed, which is why an alert for new retractions is useful.

    I’m curious as to what should be done when retractions don’t change the outcome of the analysis. The strength of meta-analysis is in the number of studies included. One study shouldn’t dramatically impact it. Was that the case here? Could there not be a revision with the study excluded?

    1. According to the article, they do plan to rerun the meta-analysis without the retracted input article and then resubmit; an erratum might have been an alternative to retracting the meta-analysis, if the rerun can be done very quickly enough.

  3. JAMA Internal Medicine. April 2015
    Research Misconduct Identified by the US Food and Drug Administration
    Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of the Peer-Reviewed Literature
    Charles Seife
    “Conclusions and Relevance When the FDA finds significant departures from good clinical practice, those findings are seldom reflected in the peer-reviewed literature, even when there is evidence of data fabrication or other forms of research misconduct.”

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