Research Retraction Provokes Angry Response

Posted 29th April 2021 by Dave Cross
Hospital admissions for COVID-19 sparked interest in the research community when it appeared as though smokers weren’t presenting in the numbers expected. While not attempting to say that smoking prevented contracting the virus or exhibiting severe symptoms, many teams began to investigate to see if nicotine played a role. One paper, by Konstantinos Farsalinos, Theo Giannouchos, Roberto Sussman and Konstantinos Poulas has just ben retracted by the publication.

The European Respiratory Journal (ERJ) has pulled the paper (1) that found that smokers were significantly less likely than non-smokers to be admitted with severe Covid-19 symptoms. It says the reason for this is due to undisclosed tobacco industry funding.

The paper said: “Current smokers were 23% less likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers. Of all COVID-19 patients, 34.8% were hospitalized and 13.0% experienced an adverse outcome. Male gender, older age, having one or more comorbidities, and chronic renal disease, diabetes, obesity, COPD, immunosuppression and hypertension were associated with hospitalization and adverse outcome. Current smoking was not associated with adverse outcome.

The disclosure at the foot of the paper stated: “The authors have declared no competing interest.

The ERJ stated: “The above mentioned article has been retracted at the request of the editors and the publisher…it was brought to the editors’ attention that two of the authors had failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest at the time of the manuscript’s submission: That is, one of the authors (José M. Mier) at the time had a current and ongoing role in providing consultancy to the tobacco industry on tobacco harm reduction; and another (Konstantinos Poulas) at the time was a principal investigator for the Greek NGO NOSMOKE, which has its base at Patras Science Park, a science and innovation hub that has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (an organisation funded by the tobacco industry).

“If these conflicts of interest had been disclosed at the point of manuscript submission, the editors would not have considered the article for publication”.

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Senor author Dr Farsalinos blasted the retraction as, “Unfair and unsubstantiated”.

He made a full response to the website Retraction Watch (2): “Despite being the corresponding author, I was contacted by the editors of the journal only after the decision for retraction was made. They mentioned that the decision was made because two authors had conflicts of interests that were not declared. Each author was responsible for declaring his own conflicts of interest; therefore I was not responsible for these declarations.

“I responded that the discussed conflicts were irrelevant to the study’s main aims and objectives. Additionally, I proposed to publicly release the full dataset and the statistical script so that all findings could be independently verified. The editors declined.

“I requested my proposal to be mentioned in the retraction letter, but that was also rejected by the editors. I disagree with the retraction and I consider it unfair and unsubstantiated. I fully support the accuracy of all analyses and content, and we will submit the same manuscript to another journal.”

An article in The Guardian covering the retraction (3) is leading some to believe that a Bloomberg organisation lies behind the retraction.

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Once again, we are seeing research being attacked through smear rather than people addressing the science and data. The public deserve the truth about the link between nicotine and COVID, and we wish Dr Farsalinos well with his effort to republish in a different journal.

References:

  1. Characteristics and risk factors for COVID-19 diagnosis and adverse outcomes in Mexico: an analysis of 89,756 laboratory–confirmed COVID-19 cases - https://erj.ersjournals.com/content/early/2021/02/18/13993003.02144-2020
  2. ‘Unfair and unsubstantiated’: Journal retracts paper suggesting smoking is linked to lower COVID-19 risk - https://retractionwatch.com/2021/04/21/journal-retracts-paper-suggesting-smoking-is-linked-to-lower-covid-19-risk/
  3. Scientific paper claiming smokers less likely to acquire Covid retracted over tobacco industry links - https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/apr/22/scientific-paper-claiming-smokers-less-likely-to-acquire-covid-retracted-over-tobacco-industry-links


 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker
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