OBJECTIVE: Analyses of the impact of a body of clinical trial reports subject to research misconduct have been few. Our objective was to examine the impact on clinically relevant research of a group of researchers' trial reports ('affected trial reports') affected by research misconduct, and whether identification of misconduct invoked a reappraisal.
DESIGN: In 2016, we used five databases and search engines to identify 'citing publications', that is, guidelines, systematic and other reviews, and clinical trials citing any of 12 affected trial reports, published 1998-2011, eventually retracted for research misconduct. The affected trial reports were assessed more likely to have had impact because they had hip fracture outcomes and were in journals with impact factor >4. Two authors assessed whether findings of the citing publications would change if the affected trial reports were removed. In 2018, we searched for evidence that the citing publications had undertaken a reassessment as a result of the potential influence of the affected trial reports.
RESULTS: By 2016 the affected trial reports were cited in 1158 publications, including 68 systematic reviews, meta-analyses, narrative reviews, guidelines and clinical trials. We judged that 13 guidelines, systematic or other reviews would likely change their findings if the affected trial reports were removed, and in another eight it was unclear if findings would change. By 2018, only one of the 68 citing publications, a systematic review, appeared to have undertaken a reassessment, which led to a correction.
CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence that this group of affected trial reports distorted the evidence base. Correction of these distortions is slow, uncoordinated and inconsistent. Unless there is a rapid, systematic, coordinated approach by bibliographic databases, authors, journals and publishers to mitigate the impact of known cases of research misconduct, patients, other researchers and their funders may continue to be adversely affected.
- hip fractures
- randomised controlled trials
- scientific misconduct