Thank you, James Watson. Thank you, Peter Ellis. (Lancet: You should do the right thing and credit them for your retraction. Actually, do one better and invite them to write a joint editorial in your journal.)

So, Lancet issued a retraction of that controversy hydro-oxy-choloro-supercalifragilisticexpialadocious paper.

From three of the four authors of the now-retracted paper:

After publication of our Lancet Article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses conducted by Surgisphere Corporation and its founder and our co-author, Sapan Desai, in our publication. We launched an independent third-party peer review of Surgisphere with the consent of Sapan Desai to evaluate the origination of the database elements, to confirm the completeness of the database, and to replicate the analyses presented in the paper.

Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements. As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process.

We always aspire to perform our research in accordance with the highest ethical and professional guidelines. We can never forget the responsibility we have as researchers to scrupulously ensure that we rely on data sources that adhere to our high standards. Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources. Due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted.
We all entered this collaboration to contribute in good faith and at a time of great need during the COVID-19 pandemic. We deeply apologise to you, the editors, and the journal readership for any embarrassment or inconvenience that this may have caused.

And from Lancet:

Today, three of the authors of the paper, “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis”, have retracted their study. They were unable to complete an independent audit of the data underpinning their analysis. As a result, they have concluded that they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.” The Lancet takes issues of scientific integrity extremely seriously, and there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study. Following guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), institutional reviews of Surgisphere’s research collaborations are urgently needed.

It’s good they retracted this paper, also good that it only took them a couple weeks. That’s much faster than the 12 years it took them to retract Wakefield’s vaccine paper.

Better than nothing, but . . . they write, “several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses.”

I have two problems here.

1. Even had the data been clean, there were many questions raised about the analysis, not just veracity but also statistical appropriateness. Even if the other authors of this paper trusted Surgisphere’s data, why should they have trusted their statistical analysis?

2. What’s with the passive voice? “Several concerns were raised . . .” They should give credit to James Watson and Peter Ellis, along with the (mostly anonymous) commenters on pubpeer. Watson and Ellis did a lot of work, and they stuck their necks out. They should be thanked by the author of the paper and the editors of the journal.

It’s frustrating to me how this sort of retraction is considered to be an embarrassment to be swept under the rug.

What Lancet should really do is invite Watson and Ellis to write an editorial for their journal, detailing the story of how they became suspicious and what happened from there.

I also agree with Zad, who writes:

Of course, it would now be great if med journals like it would retract studies for bad analyses and designs and not just fraud, but that’s still wishful thinking.

No cat picture, though!