Race to be first to report first case of COVID-19 death during pregnancy leads to a retraction – Retraction Watch

A group of researchers in Iran has retracted their case report on what they claimed was the first known case of a pregnant woman who died of Covid-19. 

The reason: According to the corresponding author, another group of researchers in Iran, who had first seen the patient at their hospital, had beaten them to the submission punch without their knowledge. (This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a case like this.)

The paper appeared in Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, an Elsevier title, on April 11. Sometime in early May, it seems (the dates are unclear on the journal website) the group, led by a team at Zanjan University of Medical Sciences, retracted the article. 

Elsevier allows authors to withdraw papers without explanation if they have appeared online but not yet in print, which is the case here. So the retraction notice says, well, nothing: 

This article has been withdrawn at the request of the author(s). The Publisher apologizes for any inconvenience this may cause.

Patricia Schlagenhauf, the editor in chief of the journal, told us: 

The paper was “withdrawn” not “retracted”. This was requested by the authors as apparently another group at the same hospital independently also submitted the case for publication to another journal.

Although the difference between withdrawn and retracted might be obvious to Elsevier, it’s far from clear to anyone else. So here’s a modest suggestion for the publisher and its journals: If they insist on the semantics of the matter, give readers information about the removal in the notice to eliminate any suspicions about the reason.

Amir Hossein Norooznezhad, the corresponding author of the paper and the Head of International Affairs at the Medical Biology Research Center of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences, told us: 

had no problem at all from any aspect and was an accidental issue. As we have mentioned in the article, the patient was referred from a maternal hospital which she was there for her first 24 hour of admission (the hospitalized period in our center was 3 days until she passed away). We have used approval from Medical Ethics Committee of Zanjan University of Medical Sciences. After a while, we have been informed that another team from the first maternal hospital have presented the case in a case series with an another ethical approval code from Tehran University of Medical Sciences (none of the authors were aware of other manuscript). 

Norooznezhad said he and his colleagues submitted their manuscript on March 31. Unknown to them, the other group had already submitted a write-up of their case series to the New England Journal of Medicine, which rejected the paper. They then turned to the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, which said yes [this appears to be the paper]: 

Norooznezhad said: 

In order to respect their efforts and also professionalism rules as well as [the validity of statistics] in pregnant mortality in COVID-19 patients we have requested withdrawal. However, our data was more complete with treatments, imaging findings, and histopathological results. Altogether, there was nothing wrong with the article at all and we are proud to respect the ethics of publication especially when it’s an important issue.

Meanwhile, the paper has been mentioned nearly 3,000 times on Twitter, compared to just 140-odd times for the paper that was submitted first.

Hat tip: Amélie Daoust-Boisvert

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