Discredited Studies Not Yet Retracted

Ten years after an investigative report found that 10 papers on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were “flawed,” only one has been pulled from the literature.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst

Jef Akst is managing editor of The Scientist, where she started as an intern in 2009 after receiving a master’s degree from Indiana University in April 2009 studying the mating behavior of seahorses.

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Aug 16, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, JULO

In 2001, a report a UK government-commissioned committee found that 10 published papers on sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) were based on incomplete or falsified autopsies and were thus unreliable. But today, only one of those papers has been retracted, Nature reports.

The investigations began in the late 1990s after it became clear that UK pathologists were harvesting organs and tissue samples from dead children without their parents’ permission. In January 2001, the government-commissioned committee reported that in addition to unethically removing the children’s organs, Dutch pathologist Dick van Velzen of the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool did not properly complete their autopsy reports, even making up some of the reported data. As a result, the papers he published with his colleagues at the University of Liverpool that were based on the questionable data, which aimed to identify potential causes of SIDS by comparing SIDS...

Following the report’s release, the UK’s General Medical Council (GMC) made the decision to ban van Velzen from practicing medicine in the country, but by 2009, none of those 10 papers has been pulled from the scientific literature. Upon discovering this, neuroscientist Christian Holscher of the University of Ulster wrote to the editors of the journals where the papers had been published, but only one—Victor Chernick of Pediatric Pulmonology—responded by actually retracting the paper. Even today, the other nine papers remain published. "It's not okay that these papers are still in the public domain," Holscher told Nature. "If you don't know the background, you assume this is a scientific study with proper results."

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