Author denies Chinese censorship prompted COVID-19 retraction

The corresponding author of a recently published – and then quickly retracted – letter in The Lancet decrying the failure of the Chinese Ministry of Health to pay doctors and other health care workers says authorities did not pressure him to withdraw the piece.

The letter begins:

As the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end in China, medical personnel who have worked tirelessly to fight the omicron (B.1.1.529) variant are now facing a new challenge. Despite their heroic efforts, many of them are now struggling to receive the financial compensation they deserve.

The second sentence cites a blog post on Weixin

The retraction notice, published on March 31, just eight days after the original letter, blames “inaccurate statements and personal opinions from social media” for the authors’ decision to retract, which was communicated to the journal on March 27.

By our count, there have now been 315 retractions of COVID-19 papers.

Tian Yang, the corresponding author of the letter and a liver specialist at Hangzhou Medical College and Second Military Medical University (Navy Medical University) in Shanghai, told Retraction Watch:

The reason for the retraction is due to “inaccurate statements and personal opinions” that this correspondence cited one reference from personal social media sources. As scholars, we recognize the importance of upholding objectivity and accuracy in our statement, and we believe that these issues compromised the integrity of this correspondence. While there were no instances of academic misconduct such as data fabrication, image duplication, or plagiarism, we felt it was necessary to take this action to demonstrate our commitment to these principles.

Given questions about censorship of COVID-19 research by the Chinese government, we asked Yang – who urged us not to report on the case – whether he had been pressured to retract the paper. 

“Of course not,” he said.

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