Little support for calls to retract BMJ articles on statin side effects

| June 18, 2014

I have written recently about a brouhaha stoked by one Professor Sir Rory Collins. It concerns two articles published in the BMJ last year which stated that side effects from statins were around the 20 per cent mark. The claims were genuinely misleading, and Rory Collins brought this to the attention of the BMJ. The BMJ withdrew the comments regarding side-effects, but Sir Rory was not satisfied: he is demanding retraction of both articles in their entirely (even though he has not challenged the main points made in the articles).

Fiona Godlee, the editor of the BMJ, has convened a committee to consider whether or not the articles should be retracted. She wrote about this in an editorial. The editorial has received almost 80 responses to date, and you can read them here.

Take a quick scan through the responses and you will see that there is very little support for Sir Rory’s position. Even when there is, the ‘upvote’ scores alongside the responses indicate that the overall sentiment is not with him. In contrast, those who express the view that the articles should not be retracted are plentiful and have been broadly supported by readers.

I wrote to Professor Collins last week, asking him for the case for retraction which was mentioned by a colleague of his (Professor Peter Sever) but was, to my knowledge, not in the public domain. After a few days, Professor Collins did get back to me, to tell me he had submitted his case to the BMJ and this would be made public when the ‘retraction committee’ reports at the end of next month.

In an email response, I thanked Professor Collins for getting back to me, but also felt somehow compelled to engage with him regarding the situation as a whole. In my email, I wrote:

“Have you been keeping abreast of the rapid responses on the BMJ website? As I remarked to Professor Sever, the responses appear to be overwhelmingly in favour of not retracting the articles, and this position appears to have wide-scale support (judging by the ‘upvote’ scores). In contrast, there appears to be only lone voices supporting your stance, and the upvotes indicate that this position has little momentum behind it.

This is my personal opinion (feel free to ignore or reject), but if the committee decides not to retract, then I think it’s fair to say many will see your approach as an attempt to bully the BMJ and suppress important information about the potential risks and (limited) benefits of statins in those at relatively low risk of cardiovascular disease. One could argue that if the committee does decide to retract the articles, then the result (for you) could be even worse: I anticipate (though I might be wrong) that there will be quite some backlash against such a decision.

I suspect the current rapid responses give us at least a flavour for what the broad reaction might be. And outside this (though probably connected with it), we even have quite prominent people questioning the processes used by NICE, specifically the making of decisions based on at least some evidence they do not even have access to (e.g. the CTT data). The conflicts of interest issue has loomed large too.

If I were advising you (unlikely, I know), I’d suggest that you might have been better off highlighting the minor errors made by Drs Abramson and Malhotra in the form of a letter (this time, for publication). Now the genie is out of the bottle, though, I can’t see how anyone is going to be able to get it back in.”

I may be wrong, but I think there is now considerable mood music that opposes Professor Collins. It seems that in the eyes of increasing numbers of people he is not to be trusted and has abused his power. I might be wrong, but I just can’t see this coming out well for him or other prominent proponents of statins at all.

Here's to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth



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Comments (1)

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  1. Derek Mann says:

    ” I might be wrong, but I just can’t see this coming out well for him or other prominent proponents of statins at all.”

    Oh Good! My side effects after taking statins were real and both painful and distressing. I will never take them again and consider all the advocates of widespread prescription of stains to be totally misguided.
    Regards
    Derek Mann

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