Study Pulled Minutes Before Publication

A journal halts publication of a study on the benefits of meditation for heart disease to review additional data.

Jul 8, 2011
Jessica P. Johnson

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, TANUMANASI

In an unprecedented decision on June 27, editors of the Archives of Internal Medicine withheld publication of a research study and an accompanying commentary a mere 12 minutes before it was to appear online.

According to Jann Ingmire, director of media relations for the Archives journal series as well as the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the decision was made after the authors informed Archives editors that new, potentially relevant data existed. “At that point, the journal felt it was necessary to review the new data” prior to publishing the study, said Ingmire, adding that it is not yet known whether the new data will affect the study’s findings.

The new data came to light after the study authors invited the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which funded the study, to comment on the accepted manuscript for a press release. Upon seeing the final paper, project officer Peter Kaufmann reminded the authors of the additional data collected since the original manuscript was submitted, “and the importance of including all available data in publications,” Kaufmann told The Scientist in an email. Though he did not specifically recommend that it be included, the authors decided to send the most recent data to the journal.

“No one at NIH or the NHLBI contacted the Archives of Internal Medicine about the submitted paper,” Susan Shurin, acting director of NHLBI, said in an email. “The decision to not publish the study findings was made by the journal editors as a result of their communications with the lead author of the paper.”

The study examined 201 African-Americans with coronary heart disease over a period of 9 years and found that those who practiced Transcendental Meditation—one of the most widely-practiced meditation techniques—for 40 minutes each day were less likely to suffer heart attack, stroke, or death than the control group that was taught a more conventional cardiovascular health program, according to the journal’s original press release.

"The effect is as large or larger than major categories of drug treatment for cardiovascular disease," lead author Robert Schneider, director of the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University of Management in Iowa, told The Telegraph. (The Telegraph article has since been removed from the website because it covered details of the unpublished study, but Schneider’s quote was reposted on Nature’s news blog.)

Ingmire said that it is unclear how long it will take to review the new data, whether or not the new data will alter the conclusions of the paper, and whether the paper will eventually be published at all. “The editor is waiting for a revised version of the paper that will contain the additional data...which will still need to be reviewed and analyzed before a decision is made on whether and when to publish,” she wrote in an email to The Scientist.

The NHLBI and the study authors declined The Scientist’s request to comment on whether the more recent data would impact the outcome of the study. “NHLBI does not know how the paper will look when revised,” Kaufmann said. “The paper is under peer review again and is considered confidential.

“We wish to respect the peer review process, as we always have. Therefore, I will comment more on the paper when it is published,” Schneider echoed in a press release. “Given that this study required nine years to conduct, the authors are pleased to take the additional time needed to review all relevant input and make revisions as necessary.”

Media Relations Director for Maharishi University Ken Chawkin said this was the first time in his 10 years with the press office that a paper has been pulled just prior to publication. "A series of unfortunate events" led to the decision to delay the paper, he said. "Now, it is a question of meeting the requirements of getting the study published."