Thursday, September 11, 2014

New England Journal of Medicine Downplays Its Error in Exaggerating Youth E-Cigarette Data

Last week the New England Journal of Medicine inflated a study of mouse brain activity with nicotine into a gateway-to-cocaine claim (here).  This week I report that the journal never properly fixed an error it made regarding e-cigarette use among children.

I reported on April 9 that “the New England Journal of Medicine and authors of a commentary on e-cigarette use ignored our call for correction of a substantial error regarding e-cigarette use among American schoolchildren in 2011 and 2012.” (here). 

The following day, Dr. Fairchild, first author of the commentary and professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, emailed me: “We have, in fact, been talking with NEJM about the graph. I’ll let you know what happens.” 

No further communication was received from Dr. Fairchild, but on June 12 the journal published its idea of a correction in the form of a revised bar chart, which appears on the left.  The revision involved changing a stacked bar chart to a side-by-side chart, with the entirely insufficient note that “some students may have been included in both categories.” 

May have been?  It is clear from the CDC reports (here and here) that the original article double-counted a large number of dual users of both e-cigarettes and cigarettes.  The journal should have corrected the error by issuing a chart we provided (the larger chart at left), illustrating the huge proportion of dual use. 

Why did the journal “revise” the presentation of data, rather than acknowledge and correct a significant error regarding dual use of e-cigarettes and cigarettes among American youth?  One could conclude that an anti-tobacco bias overrode standard editorial policy.

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