Science Says: What happens when researchers make mistakes - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Science Says: What happens when researchers make mistakes

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer). FILE - This Dec. 29, 2011 file photo shows the entrance to the editorial offices of the New England Journal of Medicine in Boston. On Wednesday, June 13, 2018, the journal retracted and republished a landmark study on the Medi... (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer). FILE - This Dec. 29, 2011 file photo shows the entrance to the editorial offices of the New England Journal of Medicine in Boston. On Wednesday, June 13, 2018, the journal retracted and republished a landmark study on the Medi...

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE
AP Chief Medical Writer

Everyone makes mistakes, but when scientists do, the remedy goes far beyond saying you're sorry. Two fresh examples show how some journals and universities react when the need arises to set the record straight.

On Wednesday, the New England Journal of Medicine retracted and republished a landmark study on the Mediterranean diet, and issued an unprecedented five other corrections after an obscure report last year scrutinized thousands of articles in eight journals over more than a decade and questioned some methods.

Separately, Cornell University said it was investigating "a wide range of allegations of research misconduct" raised against a prominent food marketing faculty member.

The New England Journal's review did not alter any conclusions and should raise public trust in science, not erode it, said its top editor, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen.

"When we discover a problem we work very hard to get to the bottom of it," he said. "There's no fraud here as far as we can tell. But we needed to correct the record."

HOW COMMON ARE ERRORS?

"Retractions are definitely on the rise" and there are 10 times as many corrections as retractions, said Dr. Ivan Oransky, a health journalism professor at New York University and co-founder of Retraction Watch, a website that tracks errors in science journals.

But they're still pretty rare. About 1,350 papers were retracted in 2016 out of 2 million published - less than a tenth of a percent, but up from 36 out of 1 million in 2000, he said.

"The main reason they're up is that people are looking," and the internet makes it easier with tools to detect plagiarism and manipulated images, Oransky said.

Studies are often the main source of evidence that guides doctors' decision-making and patient care, and that's why journals are so meticulous when that evidence is called into question.

ANATOMY OF A MISTAKE

Here's what happened at the New England Journal.

Many experiments randomly assign people to different groups to compare one treatment to another. The groups should be similar on height, weight, age and other factors, and statistical tests can suggest whether the distribution of these traits is implausible, compromising any results.

Dr. John Carlisle of Torbay Hospital in England used one such test to scrutinize thousands of studies from 2000 through 2015 including 934 in the New England Journal and flagged 11 as suspicious.

The journal contacted each author and "within a week we resolved 10 of the 11 cases," Drazen said. In five, Carlisle was wrong. Five others were terminology errors by the authors - Wednesday's corrections.

The last was the diet study on 7,500 people in Spain, which established that eating lots of fish, vegetables, olive oil and nuts could slash heart risks by 30 percent - front-page news everywhere.

Researchers dug through records and discovered that one study site had not followed procedures - if one person in a household joined the study, others such as a spouse also were allowed in. That makes the group assignments not truly random. When results were re-analyzed without those folks, the bottom line remained the same, and the journal is now publishing both versions.

"I've been impressed" with the response, Carlisle said.

His analysis also covered 518 studies in the Journal of the American Medical Association, but JAMA has not done a systematic review, said its top editor, Dr. Howard Bauchner. Instead, the journal asks authors to respond if concerns are raised about specific articles and publishes those as they arise.

FOOD ARTICLES UNDER A CLOUD

Last week, JAMA published an "expression of concern " about six articles by Brian Wansink, head of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, "to alert the scientific community to the ongoing concerns about the validity of these publications" and ask Cornell to do an independent evaluation.

Wansink has had seven papers retracted (one twice), 15 corrections and now this expression of concern, Oransky said.

Wansink said in an email that he has been working with co-authors in France, Israel and the Netherlands "to locate the original data sets and reanalyze and the data in the papers," and that materials will be independently analyzed by Cornell and reported back to the journal.

Cornell's statement says a committee of faculty members has been investigating allegations against Wansink since last fall and working with federal agencies that sponsor research.

"The assertions being made by outside researchers and the retraction of multiple papers from academic journals by the Food and Brand Lab are concerning. Our silence on this matter to date should in no way be construed as a disregard for the seriousness of the claims being raised nor as an abdication of our obligation to explore them."

___

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at @MMarchioneAP .

___

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • InternationalMore>>

  • Lewandowski on girl with Down syndrome: 'Wah wah'

    Lewandowski on girl with Down syndrome: 'Wah wah'

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 11:35 PM EDT2018-06-20 03:35:12 GMT
    Wednesday, June 20 2018 1:12 AM EDT2018-06-20 05:12:48 GMT
    A former campaign manager for Donald Trump has created a stir by dismissing a story about a girl with Down syndrome with a sarcastic "Wah wah.".
    A former campaign manager for Donald Trump has created a stir by dismissing a story about a girl with Down syndrome with a sarcastic "Wah wah.".
  • Yemeni officials say fighting rages around Hodeida airport

    Yemeni officials say fighting rages around Hodeida airport

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 4:50 AM EDT2018-06-19 08:50:33 GMT
    Wednesday, June 20 2018 1:12 AM EDT2018-06-20 05:12:36 GMT
    (Arab 24 via AP). This still image taken from video provided by Arab 24 shows Saudi-led forces gathering to retake the international airport of Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida from the Shiite Houthi rebels Saturday, June 16, 2018.  With battles...(Arab 24 via AP). This still image taken from video provided by Arab 24 shows Saudi-led forces gathering to retake the international airport of Yemen's rebel-held port city of Hodeida from the Shiite Houthi rebels Saturday, June 16, 2018. With battles...
    Yemeni military officials say fighting has escalated outside the airport of the vital Yemeni city of Hodeida.
    Yemeni military officials say fighting has escalated outside the airport of the vital Yemeni city of Hodeida.
  • Indonesia raises number of ferry missing to nearly 180

    Indonesia raises number of ferry missing to nearly 180

    Tuesday, June 19 2018 10:51 PM EDT2018-06-20 02:51:08 GMT
    Wednesday, June 20 2018 1:12 AM EDT2018-06-20 05:12:33 GMT
    (AP Photo). An Indonesia search and rescue team searches for a ferry which sank Monday in lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Rescuers searching for dozens of people missing after a ferry sank on Indonesia's Lake Toba have foun...(AP Photo). An Indonesia search and rescue team searches for a ferry which sank Monday in lake Toba, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Tuesday, June 19, 2018. Rescuers searching for dozens of people missing after a ferry sank on Indonesia's Lake Toba have foun...
    Indonesian officials say 166 people are missing from a ferry sinking Monday evening at a popular lake on Sumatra, a much higher number than previously known.
    Indonesian officials say 166 people are missing from a ferry sinking Monday evening at a popular lake on Sumatra, a much higher number than previously known.
  • Science & technology newsMore>>

  • Supreme Court to take up iPhone app lawsuit

    Supreme Court to take up iPhone app lawsuit

    Monday, June 18 2018 10:00 AM EDT2018-06-18 14:00:57 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 9:15 PM EDT2018-06-20 01:15:35 GMT
    The Supreme Court will consider whether the purchasers of iPhone can sue Apple over allegations it has an illegal monopoly on the sale of iPhone apps.
    The Supreme Court will consider whether the purchasers of iPhone can sue Apple over allegations it has an illegal monopoly on the sale of iPhone apps.
  • Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition

    Some Amazon investors side with ACLU on facial recognition

    Monday, June 18 2018 5:30 PM EDT2018-06-18 21:30:41 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 9:15 PM EDT2018-06-20 01:15:29 GMT
    Some Amazon company investors are siding with privacy and civil rights advocates who are urging the tech giant to halt a powerful face recognition tool used by police.
    Some Amazon company investors are siding with privacy and civil rights advocates who are urging the tech giant to halt a powerful face recognition tool used by police.
  • Investigators say DNA database can be goldmine for old cases

    Investigators say DNA database can be goldmine for old cases

    Saturday, June 16 2018 12:19 PM EDT2018-06-16 16:19:01 GMT
    Tuesday, June 19 2018 8:22 PM EDT2018-06-20 00:22:21 GMT

    Some private investigators and genealogy experts want to use the same DNA-tracking system that identified the suspected Golden State Killer to solve decades-old murder and missing-person cases.

    Some private investigators and genealogy experts want to use the same DNA-tracking system that identified the suspected Golden State Killer to solve decades-old murder and missing-person cases.

Powered by Frankly