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Retrospective correction: how far back do we go?


In 1990 a case report was published in which it was alleged that the use of a particular endotracheal tube had led to tracheal damage, requiring the child to have a tracheostomy and a tracheal reconstruction. This paper was from a specialist surgical unit, and a letter was subsequently received from the paediatricians who had cared for the baby at the referring hospital before and after the transfer to the surgical unit.


Scientifically meaningless research without consent


A private practitioner submitted a paper in which he had treated a series of patients without ethics committee approval. Many people would regard the treatment used as scientifically dubious. Furthermore, some of the patients had been treated with increasing doses of a new treatment that randomised controlled trials have shown to work. In effect, therefore, the study was a dosage study of the new treatment.


Duplicate submission of a paper


A paper concerning the prevention of coronary disease in primary care was received. This examined the practical consequences of following some recent national recommendations and suggested that the recommendations were unrealistic. A few weeks later another paper from the same authors was submitted, which the editor who first read it thought was probably an inadvertent duplicate submission of the same paper. On comparing the two papers, however, they were not identical.


The dubious scientist


A scientist wrote to a medical journal asking if it was interested in receiving an editorial from him. The editorial would criticise current HIV vaccine research. The scientist is the senior partner of a technology company, and he printed his company’s website in his communication to the journal.


Reviewer submitting for publication material that had been removed from a paper he had reviewed


The paper was sent to two reviewers and published after modification. Between acceptance and publication, some modelling that had been included in the original paper was removed. Some time after publication one of the people who had reviewed the study submitted a letter for publication that included this model. The original authors were rather surprised by this and they sent us a letter pointing out that their original paper had included this material.


Research involving unethical animal experimentation


A manuscript was submitted which described an intervention that partially corrected the results in stress injury in an animal model. Two reviewers drew attention to the fact that the stress model used in these experiments would not be ethically acceptable in the UK.


Developing novel approaches to improve the assessment of absolute risk among patients with cardiovascular disease


The possibility of dual publication of two papers with almost identical titles and an identical list of authors emerged in the course of appointing a short-listing panel for an NHS award. The potential duplication was spotted in the publications list of an applicant for the award, who was not the first author on either paper. The editor of Journal A, in which one of the papers was in press, was a member of the awards short-listing panel.


Clinical misconduct(?), incidentally discovered


An author submitted a speculative article offering a new explanation for the aetiology of premenstrual syndrome, and a new suggestion for its treatment. The paper was wholly based on a priori reasoning, rather than evidence. It was rejected. The authors appealed, citing as evidence in favour of publishing their paper that they had had successful results treating two patients with the proposed medication—corticosteriods. The dose used was not stated.


The missing ethics committee and lack of written consent


A study that helps with the microbiological diagnosis of a clinical condition had been peer reviewed and accepted for publication when it was discovered that the study had no formal ethics committee approval and that the patients had given verbal rather than written consent.


Authorship dispute


An article was published with three authors’ names. Not all of the authors’ signatures had been included on the original submission letter. A complaint was lodged by Y, who said that X had submitted the paper without either his or Z’s consent or knowledge, and that there were several specific errors and omissions. Y then submitted a statement for publication in the journal dissociating himself from the published article.