Friday, February 7, 2020

Indefensible Inaction by JAHA Editors on Obvious Research Misconduct

For six months, Journal of the American Heart Association editors Drs. Barry London (, Daniel T. Eitzman ( and Janice Weinberg ( have refused to correct demonstrably false research results published in the June issue. The work was authored by Drs. Dharma Bhatta and Stanton Glantz.

As reported in USA Today, the study “claimed adult vaping was ‘associated with’ a doubled risk of heart attack, but Glantz went further in a blog post, saying the study represented ‘more evidence that e-cigs cause heart attacks.’”

“However, when [Dr. Brad] Rodu obtained the federal data, he found the majority of the 38 patients in the study who had heart attacks had them before they started vaping — by an average of 10 years earlier. In his [two] letter[s] to the editors [here and here], Rodu called Glantz's findings ‘false and invalid…Their analysis was an indefensible breach of any reasonable standard for research on association or causation…We urge you to take appropriate action on this article, including retraction.’”

O’Donnell’s article continued, “the American Heart Association says it follows the Committee on Publication Ethics [COPE] guidelines, meaning editors ask the author to respond to any questions brought to its attention… The journal may revise the publication record, if it's determined necessary.”

However, the journal editors never responded to me in a substantive manner.  In October, the journal sent me an unresponsive letter about COPE guidelines.  The letter was unsigned, a discourtesy suggesting that the editors found our objections unworthy of consideration.

In November, I invited the broad research community to counter the falsified research; that blog post has been viewed over 2,300 times.  Andrew Gelman, widely respected professor of statistics and political science, and director of Columbia University’s Applied Statistics Center, conducted his own analysis.  He commented in his blog that “Rodu’s criticism seems more serious.  Bhatta and Glantz are making causal claims based on correlation between heart problems and e-cigarette use…It seems like a real article with a data issue that Rodu found, and the solution would seem to be to perform a corrected analysis removing the data from the people who had heart problems before they started vaping.”

Dr. Gelman’s comment was followed by a January 20 letter from 16 prominent tobacco researchers, led by Dr. David Abrams of the New York University, to the JAHA editors (here).  Abrams and colleagues wrote that the Rodu and Gelman analyses suggest “that the published findings are unreliable and that there is a case to answer…a proper investigation and response.”

Three days later, the editors sent a reply that was a Xerox copy of their October unsigned (non)response to me (here).

Abrams et al. pushed back.  In a January 29 letter they said the editors’ correspondence “does not amount to a substantive response to the concerns we raised about (1) critical failures in the published paper…(2) the conduct of [Bhatta and Glantz] in failing to make adjustments to their analysis with data they knew were available…(3) the process followed by the journal in the light of the whistleblower complaint made by Dr. Brad Rodu in July 2019…”  The Abrams group noted that the journal is not in compliance with COPE guidelines, and they bluntly ask the editors:

“Does the journal accept the findings are unreliable and what does the journal propose to do about the published paper?  Can you confirm whether there is or has been an investigation into this complaint, outline its current status and set out the outcome of the investigation if there is one so far?”

Documentation regarding this academic misfeasance is available at this PubPeer link.

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