By Michael J. New
This week, Sage publications announced that it was retracting three studies that found that chemical abortions pose health risks. The primary author of each of these studies was James Studnicki, the vice president and director of data analytics at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Co-authors of these studies included researchers from the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) and the Eliot Institute. The announcement of the retraction has received a great deal of media attention. That is because these studies were cited by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in his April 2023 decision to suspend FDA approval of mifepristone, one of the drugs used in chemical abortions. This case has gone through the appeal process and the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in March.
Much of the rationale that Sage used to retract these studies does not withstand serious scrutiny. Sage claimed the lead author “declared no conflict of interest.” However, the pro-life organizations with which the authors are affiliated are clearly mentioned on the first page of each study. Sage also claims that an outside reviewer for each of the studies was a scholar affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute. However, Sage’s review process is double-blind. Neither the authors nor the reviewer were aware of one another’s identity. Furthermore, it is extremely unlikely that any of these studies were accepted because of one supportive review. When a journal accepts a study, it is usually
Sage’s other justifications for retracting the study include a variety of technical arguments raised by an outside scholar. These include whether multiple emergency-room visits are evidence of abortion complications or rather of other preexisting health problems. Another issue raised involves the fact that Medicaid recipients are more likely to obtain health care from emergency rooms than is the general population. However, journals usually retract studies in response to scholarly misconduct. Examples of this would include either misrepresenting or falsifying data. They do not generally retract studies because of differences of opinion about the analysis or interpretation of data.
It also should be noted that Sage has not been completely transparent about their rationale for retracting these three articles. They have made it difficult to find the retracted studies on their website. They have not made public the entirety of the criticisms of published studies. Even more importantly, they have also not made public the response of Studnicki and his team have made to the criticisms of their research.
Instead of retracting the studies, a far better approach would have been to let Studnicki’s critics publish a response. When a study is accepted, authors generally have to make their data available to other researchers. Give that, Studnicki’s critics could have conducted their own analysis. Other scholars could also conduct their own research. This dialogue between academics would certainly help the scholarly community decide who has the more compelling argument on an issue of public concern.
Unfortunately, instead of facilitating a debate between academics, Sage has decided to effectively weaponize academic publishing and take a clear stance in favor of legal abortion. This is a disturbing trend among academic journals, particularly in the field of public health. Back in 2017, the New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial criticizing some of President Trump’s Health and Human Services appointees. Last month, JAMA Internal Medicine published a letter that used grossly exaggerated data to claim that over 64,000 children were conceived in rape in states with strong pro-life laws in effect.
Overall, academic journals should publish quality research and facilitate debate among scholars. Unfortunately, Sage’s decision to retract these three articles is further evidence that many journals are primarily concerned with promoting left-wing causes and squelching dissenting points of view.
Editor’s note. This appeared at National Review Online and reposted with the author’s permission.