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    Danielle Chilvers
Danielle Chilvers
Journals Publishing Manager, Wiley

I recently interviewed Richard Gray, Editor of the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing and Professor of Clinical Nursing Practice at Latrobe University, Melbourne, who spotted a retracted Clinical Trial which, prior to retraction, had been included and cited in two Review articles. An Editor’s Note has since been published alongside the Review articles to inform readers of the situation, and below, Richard has summed up the reasons why this was important, along with advice on how to maintain the integrity of the published literature.

 

Richard Gray.jpg

Q. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Richard. So citations were made to a retracted article which occurred before the article was retracted. You spotted this, investigated, and concluded that the retracted article had no substantial bearing on the conclusions of the two review articles. Why is it important to follow up on this?

A. Thank you for asking me. Your question – I guess – is prompted by an exploratory study our group did that sought to test if systematic reviews ever include retracted papers. The work matters because, in a clinical discipline such as nursing, practice should be informed by the best available evidence, which generally comes in the form of a systematic review. If a review includes a retracted paper then it is possible that conclusions and recommendations for practice may be unsound. In our study we identified 37 systematic reviews that included a retracted clinical trial. Two of these were published in Wiley journals (the Journal of Clinical Nursing and the Journal of Advanced Nursing). The focus of both reviews was on mobile phone interventions to enhance medication adherence. To be clear, the authors of these systematic review articles had probably not made a mistake, the retraction occurred after the review had been published. And you are right, the conclusions of the two reviews in Wiley journals were not substantially affected by the retraction of an included study. However, we did find a number of examples where review conclusions were markedly affected by the removal of a retracted trial. This included one review where recalculating the meta-analysis (minus the retracted trial) changed a non-significant effect to one that was significant. Ultimately, we argue readers should have all the facts about a review to enable them to make an informed judgement about the quality and reliability of the research they are using to inform their clinical practice.      

 

Q. Why all the fuss about transparency?

A. Rigor, replicability and retraction are fundamental to the scientific method. The first two require researchers to be detailed and meticulous in the reporting of their research. If a serious error is made in a study or there is misconduct the paper reporting the results should be retracted (removed from the evidence base). Many readers will be familiar with the efforts of drug companies making well known antidepressants to either distort the reporting of trials to their commercial advantage (the infamous study 329) or avoid publishing inconvenient studies altogether. Although their motivations are different, researchers in academic settings are not immune. Taken together these problems create the various forms of publication bias. Science that is not transparent is bad science. The work of our group on the inclusion of retracted trials in systematic reviews might seem a bit bookish, but I think our work extends thinking about transparent reporting of science in a new and important way.

 

Q: What’s your advice to Editors, Reviewers and Authors? How can they be more vigilant about this sort of thing?

A. I think journal editors, reviewers and authors need to be more vigilant about the issue of retraction and systematic reviews. Certainly, authors and reviewers need to check carefully the status of manuscripts included in reviews. This is a tedious, boring task, butone vital to upholding the integrity of the review. We suspect, but have no definitive evidence, that review authors come across duplicate publications in the course of conducting their research that they do not declare (in their paper or to publishing editors). We have pondered if authors of systematic reviews should have an “ethics” section in their manuscripts, stating how they will respond if they identify duplicate publications or other research misconduct in the course of their reviews.

 

It is not clear who is responsible for alerting journal editors that a citation in a systematic review they published has been retracted. The Cochrane handbook has something to say on the matter, suggesting that review authors are responsible for monitoring the status of included trials. A nice idea, but I suspect that few authors ever do this (I am happy to be proved wrong). In my opinion it is incumbent upon the editor who retracts a paper to alert the authors citing the study that the paper has been retracted. Hard pressed editors may resist having to take on yet another burdensome administrative task. But think about the problem for a few minutes: if they don’t do the work, who will?

 

Thanks Richard, for your thoughts and advice to other Editors on such an important topic. We at Wiley commend you for taking the time to assist us in alerting readers.

Links to the Editor’s Notes can be found here and here.

 

Image Credit: Richard Gray

    Karen McKee

Have you ever read a scientific paper only to find that later you cannot recall what the overall conclusion was? You might have vague memories of where the study was conducted and one or two graphs, but cannot say what the take-home message was. You may be momentarily concerned, thinking you are slow-witted or suffering early dementia. But don’t worry. The reason you cannot repeat the main message of the paper you just read is because the author did not make it clear.

 

Avoid burying the lead

 

I’ve reviewed hundreds of manuscripts over the past four decades and during that time have noticed the same writing mistakes made again and again—mostly by inexperienced writers, but also by those who should know better. One of the most serious errors to make when writing a scientific paper is to fail to clearly articulate what was found and why it’s important. Instead, the writer may offer a laundry list of results and a rambling discussion that doesn’t

pin down a conclusion. The reader is at a loss as to what he/she should remember and, consequently, quickly forgets everything he/she just read.

When I first began writing scientific manuscripts, I was never advised to boil my results down to an overarching message and then ensure it came across loud and clear in the paper. Despite this lack of guidance, though, I somehow intuited that I needed to write my papers so they expressed a clear outcome. Consequently, my early papers were generally written so that the main finding and its importance were readily apparent.

 

The problem was that I did not formulate my core message before beginning to write. I just plunged in, writing my results without first thinking about which ones should be highlighted. I described the outcome of each experiment or analysis in the results section—in no particular order—and then discussed each one in the same order. Not surprisingly, I floundered around as I wrote and rewrote the manuscript. Eventually, I realized that having an overarching message in mind before starting the writing process would save me time and effort.

Answer your reader’s key questions

 

I thus developed the habit of distilling my message before leaping into writing a paper or preparing a conference talk. My distillation process would begin with answering a few questions. Why did I conduct the study? What was the central question driving my study? What were my main findings? Why should people care? What was new or innovative? To answer these questions, I had to spend time pondering my results from every angle, especially if I had conducted multiple experiments and analyses. But this approach made it much easier to write my papers.

 

For example, I wrote a paper in which my main finding was that recovery of a clear-cut mangrove forest in the Caribbean was aided by the presence of coastal grasses and forbs, which acted like nursery plants for the tree seedlings (McKee et al., 2007). This herbaceous vegetation helped the mangrove seedlings get established and promoted their growth by ameliorating harsh environmental conditions. We showed how beneficial traits of nurse plants could be compared with the aid of a new, standardized method. The study not only led to a better understanding of how these coastal forests recover from disturbance, it suggested a practical application: how to select nurse vegetation to accelerate restoration of damaged forests.

 

The next step was to distill this information down to a single sentence, which would be my core message. Even though our study was complex with a series of results, I was still able to condense everything to fit under a single umbrella. Once I could express my message in a single, clear sentence, I knew that I was ready to write the paper and, once written, it would effectively convey that message to the reader. Often, such a sentence can be used with minor modification as the title of the paper, which was the case here:

 

“Mangrove recruitment after forest disturbance is facilitated by herbaceous species in the Caribbean.”

 

Build around the core message (in a bottle!)

 

The process of distilling that sentence made me think harder about my results and what I wanted to get across in the paper. The process also helped me decide how to organize my material and which data to highlight—all before writing a word of the narrative. Whenever I got bogged down or overwhelmed with details, my distilled sentence helped me get back on track.

 

I eventually began thinking of this condensed statement as a “message in a bottle”. What would I write so that a colleague finding the bottle on the beach would understand what my paper was about—and want to read it? The modern version of the message in a bottle is, of course, the Tweet. Being adept at summarizing your information in 280 characters is now a useful skill in the age of social media and electronic publishing. Today, journals often ask authors for a brief summary of their paper, written in everyday language. Such blurbs are then used online in the journal’s table of contents or for promotion through social media.

 

But the main purpose of distilling your message is to make sure you see the big picture before starting to write. You may have multiple points to make in a paper, but having an overall message in mind will keep you focused as you write and will ensure that the reader remembers that message.

 

Image credit: JDe Visu/Shutterstock

    Julia Ballard
Julia Ballard
Society Marketing, Wiley

On a beautiful, autumn day in Melbourne, Australia, three Wiley colleagues—Michelle Head (Journal Publishing Manager),  Sue Huang (Journal Publishing Assistant) and myself—joined more than 60 researchers, students and industry representatives to dance for science. That’s right—we joined a flash mob to celebrate and promote the Day of Immunology!

 

The Day of Immunology events, organized by the Australasian Society of Immunology (ASI), included public lectures on the science of immunology, events to promote understanding of vaccination and public tours of labs around Melbourne. The week culminated in the Vaccination Café, held on Friday, April 27, where the public could receive a free flu shot and a free coffee (it is Melbourne, after all!).

 

With enthusiastic support from the ASI, Jomar Life Research (a Melbourne-based company) organized the flash mob to promote the Day of Immunology events, especially the free flu vaccines. But why a flash mob?

 

Alex Szabo, CEO of Jomar Life Research, summed up the motivation for the flash mob. “Most importantly, we wanted to have fun”, he said. “But in addition, we wanted to dramatically raise awareness of the Day of Immunology, and especially wanted to promote the Vaccination Café where people could get free flu shots as part of a campaign to generally encourage immunization before the flu season”.

 

 

After a flash mob practice session.

 

After some practice sessions (some in the office!), we were ready to take on the city. We danced at 4 locations on two days in the Melbourne city center, with enthusiastic crowd support every time. After each flash mob event, we handed out information about the Vaccination Café and encouraged everyone to take advantage of the free flu shots on offer.

 

By all measures, the flash mob was an overwhelming success. There were more than 40,000 social media impressions (check out #immunomob on Twitter). Public lectures and seminars in the Day of Immunology program sold out and, most importantly, the Vaccination Café had given out more than 600 flu shots by midday!

 

Take a few minutes to immerse yourself in our happy flash mob with this video:

 

 

Wiley partners with the ASI to publish itstwo journals, Immunology and Cell Biology and Clinical and Translational Immunology and we were thrilled to be able to support our partner in this innovative, fun way. We had so much fun dancing for science and look forward to joining with our partners in more events to support the research and publishing community.

Wiley colleagues from left:  Julia, Michelle, Sue

 

Image Credit: Julia Ballard

    Anna Ehler
Anna Ehler
Society Marketing    

Complicated research sharing processes hurt not only the interests of authors but also those of scholarly societies and publishers, argued Oxford University librarian Sally Rumsey in her talk at the 2018 Wiley Society Executive Seminar in London.

 

 

Hear more from Sally on her wish list for better research communication.

 

Listen to the previous podcast episode: How the Power of Social Media Can Work for You

 

You can listen to this episode and others – including American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Rush Holt’s perspective on the rise of fake news – by going to iTunes and subscribing to the Wiley Society Podcast.4Y2A4752.JPG

 

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