In an unusual move, a journal has actually gone in and changed a previously-stated conclusion of a previously-published paper. This follows a Reuters Health story that raised questions about the study. Today Reuters reports:
“A journal editor has scrubbed a line supporting the use of a L’Oreal-Nestle tanning pill from the conclusion of a company-sponsored study.
The edits come days after a Reuters Health story about serious shortcomings in the report.
Dr. Tanya Bleiker, editor of the British Journal of Dermatology, which published the study, told Reuters Health this week by e-mail she had changed the conclusion of the report, with the permission of the authors, and added the researchers’ financial conflicts.
Half of them were employees of Laboratoires Inneov, a joint venture between L’Oreal and Nestle that makes the tanning pill, called Inneov Sun Sensitivity. However, the original version of the study did not include a conflict of interest statement, Bleiker said last week, because “the authors stated very clearly that there was no conflict of interest.”
On the first page of the report, the researchers concluded that their “results support the use of this nutritional supplement.”
That sentence has now been removed. But the new version of the report now available online still says the tanning pill increases the threshold for sunburns and “represents a complementary strategy to sun avoidance and sunscreen use for a global approach to photoprotection.”
An independent dermatologist who reviewed the results for Reuters Health disputed those claims last week.
Referring to whether the pill would protect women against the sun’s harmful UV rays, Dr. Peter Schalock, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said he had “hard time seeing that statistically or scientifically (the researchers) have proven it.”
Journalists and the general public can learn from this example. Journals aren’t perfect. Publication – even in a top-notch journal – doesn’t make a study bullet-proof. Peer review has flaws. Conflict of interest disclosure policies are variable and have holes in them.
A radical thought – but one I harbor quite often: Maybe we just spend too much news time, space and attention on journal articles.
But kudos to Reuters for pulling some of the covers off of this one.