The American Journal of Public Health has retracted a controversial 2018 paper on the effects of economic austerity in Spain because it contained “inaccurate and misleading” results linking those policies to a massive spike in premature deaths.
The journal also has published a second piece, by a different group of authors, refuting the central claim of the now-retracted paper. Whereas the first article asserted that austerity in Spain during the mid-2000s led to more than 500,000 excess deaths, the new research says deaths in the country slowed during the country’s economic crisis.
The flawed article, “Austerity policies and mortality in Spain after the financial crisis of 2008,” was written by a group of researchers at the Hospital Universitario Nuestra Señora de Candelaria, in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, on the Canary Islands. The authors claimed that their analysis of the years 2011 to 2015 showed that:
Last April, the American Journal of Epidemiology and the American Journal of Public Health published a rare joint editorial statement. It concerned a pair of papers on the topic of mortality and obesity. Several complaints had prompted the journals to investigate. Their assessment: These papers contained inaccurate results.
The statement was not a retraction—it was a compromise the editors came up with that would set the academic record straight, while not tainting the authors’ publication record, given that they had (in the editors’ opinion) made honest mistakes. It was an unusual solution to a not-uncommon problem (criticisms of a paper), in which the editors tried to balance their duty to the scientific record against its potential impact on the authors. And it left few people happy — including researchers in the field, who are left unsure about the validity of the results.
Roland Sturm, an economist at Pardee RAND Graduate School who was not a co-author on the papers, told Retraction Watch:
The American Journal of Public Health has retracted a paper after it was published online, when editors discovered that the author had plagiarized text verbatim and attributed the material to completely different sources.
“Child Farm Laborers” discusses child labor through the lens of the American photographers that documented the lives of young farm workers at the beginning of the century, such as Lewis Hine. It was authored Aung Zaw Win, whose affiliation on the paper is listed as Notre Dame de Namur University, in California.
The article was slated to be published in the journal’s August issue but editors printed the retraction shortly after it posted online. Here’s the notice: