A magazine and a publisher have retracted three articles on the topic of abortion, including one that was used in legal proceedings to support the suspension of FDA approval for Mifepristone, also known as the „abortion pill.“
The editor of Health Services Research and Management Epidemiology, known as Sage, announced the retractions yesterday and issued a retraction notice for the three articles.
One of the articles, which was originally reported by a reader, „was reviewed by an independent expert with experience in statistical analysis who raised concerns and concluded that the presentation of data in figures 2 and 3 in the article leads to an inaccurate conclusion, and the composition of the cohort the article examined has problems that could impact the conclusions of the article,“ the retraction notice stated.
The notice also stated that Sage „confirmed that all authors of the article, except one, had an affiliation with one or more of the companies Charlotte Lozier Institute, Elliot Institute, and American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, all organizations that advocate for life, although the authors declared that there were no conflicts of interest at the time of submission or in the article itself.“
One of the peer reviewers, Sage learned, „was affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute at the time of the review,“ prompting the editor and journal publisher to determine that „the peer review for initial publication was unreliable.“ Sage stated that this reviewer also reviewed the other two retracted papers.
James Studnicki, the lead author of the three articles, told Retraction Watch that the retractions are „an obvious attempt to discredit excellent research that does not align with a preferred abortion narrative.“ He told The Daily Wire, a conservative news agency that first reported on the retractions, that the move was „completely unwarranted.“ The Daily Wire noted that „the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in March over the legality of the restriction of the abortion pill, a proceeding that will certainly be affected by the retractions.“
Sage subject one of the papers to a concern expression in August 2023, stating that it was investigating „potential issues related to the presentation of data in the article and author conflicts of interest“ after being alerted by a reader. As reported by News From The States at the time, the communication followed concerns raised by Chris Adkins, a professor at South University who teaches pharmaceutical sciences. News From The States noted in August:
„Kacsmaryk heavily relied on a 2021 study designed, funded, and produced by the research arm of one of the most powerful political anti-abortion groups in the U.S. The judge cited this paper — which looked at Medicaid patient visits to the emergency room within 30 days of an abortion — to justify a group of anti-abortion physicians and medical groups having legal standing to compel the FDA to recall Mifepristone.“
In a point-by-point response to Sage’s criticism of the paper, shared with Retraction Watch, Studnicki and colleagues noted that they had disclosed their affiliations in the original manuscript and that the suggested retractions at the time „misrepresent ICMJE disclosure standards“ citing the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors guidelines. They also labelled some of the post-publication peer reviewer criticisms as „factually inaccurate“ and „unfounded.“ They concluded:
„In none of the three papers was a single specific finding explicitly questioned, let alone invalidated.“
„There’s no evidence of a serious error, misjudgment, fabrication, or falsification.“
„There is no violation of COPE guidelines that would allow Sage to retract any of our published papers.“
„The retraction of one of these papers, let alone all three, is demonstrably unwarranted.“
Adkins told Retraction Watch that he is „pleased that the journal took my concerns on with justified and serious consideration.“ He continued:
„It’s reassuring that my initial concerns about the 2021 paper by Studnicki et al. were reviewed and confirmed by other experts. Despite the long timeframe between my initial communication with the journal and today’s retractions, I understand that thorough investigations and re-review processes take time. Given that these now retracted articles were excessively cited by parties involved in ongoing federal court proceedings that are now being submitted to SCOTUS, the retractions by Sage should help ensure that our courts continue to be informed by the highest standards and quality of scientific and medical evidence.“
Update, 24.06.24, 2100 UTC: We note that, contrary to industry best practices described by the Committee on Publication Ethics, Sage has removed the original versions of the articles. They are available at these links:
DISCLOSURE: Adam Marcus, co-founder of Retraction Watch, is an editor at Medscape.