Journal retracts a paper it published with a missing table after author fails to provide it

Mark Oniffrey, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you retract something that never existed in the first place? At least one journal thinks the answer to that conundrum is yes. 

That journal would be Medicine. In September 2020, the Wolters Kluwer journal published a paper titled “Tranexamic acid reduces blood cost in long-segment spinal fusion surgery: A randomized controlled study protocol” by a group in China led by Linyu Yang, of the Department of Orthopedics at the Affiliated Hospital of Southwest Medical University, in Sichuan. 

The article promised – but failed to deliver – a “Table 1”, an omission the peer reviewers and journal staff missed during the production process. Five months later, said table still had not materialized, prompting the following notice

In the article, “Tranexamic acid reduces blood cost in long-segment spinal fusion surgery: A randomized controlled study protocol”,[1] which appears in Volume 99, Issue 37 of Medicine, Table 1 was not provided and the article inadvertently published missing this content. The author has not responded to multiple attempts to secure the missing table, therefore it is being retracted from the article. 

Evidently, the authors were instructed to provide a corrected version of their article (presumably one that didn’t rely on the data in the table), which they did not do. 

As a result, almost exactly a year after the first, partial retraction, Medicine has decide to flush the whole paper – but not before it garnered at least one citation, according to Clarivate Analytics’ Web of Science: 

The article, “Tranexamic acid reduces blood cost in long-segment spinal fusion surgery: A randomized controlled study protocol”,[1] which appeared in Volume 99, Issue 37 of Medicine is being retracted. This article was initially published with an incomplete table provided by the authors, and an erratum published in anticipation of the corrected version. The authors have not responded to multiple requests, and as a result, the article has been fully retracted.

In an email, Jianping Kang, the senior author of the paper, appeared to defend the group’s failure to provide the table: 

Dear editor,it is a protocol, so it is right that there is no data.

While the paper’s title refers to “protocol,” the paper itself is definitely a report of a study.

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One thought on “Journal retracts a paper it published with a missing table after author fails to provide it”

  1. The authors certainly seem confused about whether this is a protocol or the results of a study. I suspect the text was drafted to serve both purposes, perhaps by a third party (i.e., papermill), and due to language barriers was prematurely submitted.

    In the Author Contributions section, it says, “XJ will collect data” which seems to never have occurred.

    I’d recommend the journal examine the peer review record too, as it was likely compromised.

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