SVS president, JVS editors respond to controversial paper furor

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Retracted JVS paper

Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) president Ronald L Dalman (Stanford University, Stanford, USA) has pledged that the SVS and its flagship title the Journal of Vascular Surgery (JVS) will “accelerate changes already underway” in order to improve the culture surrounding the specialty, and align with a core set of values that include diversity, inclusion, fairness and equity. 

Dalman was commenting in a statement that followed the furious reaction to a now-retracted paper published in the August issue of JVS entitled, “Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons.”

The paper went viral on social media, prompting accusations of sexism as “provocative posing in bikinis/swimwear” was listed among items of “inappropriate attire” highlighted in the paper. The furor stirred up bled into the mainstream media, with national outlets such as CNN, HuffPost and Forbes drawing reference to the affair and the Twitter hashtag under which it spread: #Medbikini.

Calls from within vascular surgery for remedy and change were brisk.

“The recent paper on ‘unprofessionalism’ in @JVascSurg has created a firestorm and rightfully so. How this was published merits a deep discussion,” tweeted Shipra Arya (Stanford University Medical Center, Stanford, USA). “It has also laid bare the disparity in gender representation on the editorial board and that needs to be addressed.”

Dalman outlined the significant level of dialogue the Society had received from members in the wake of the study’s inclusion in JVS. “We have listened and continue to welcome your feedback and thoughts, particularly from members in the early stages of their career,” he said.

Earlier, JVS editors Peter Gloviczki (Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA) and Peter Lawrence (University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, USA) had issued a statement explaining the decision to retract the paper and apologising for the “sadness, anger and disappointment” caused by its appearance.

“Many who have read the article expressed great concerns about the method of data collection, lack of diversity of the authors collecting data, as well as potential bias in the evaluation and the conclusion,” the editors said in their communique.

“Although the editors of the JVS believe that the authors of this paper were attempting to advise young vascular surgeons about the risks of social media, the review process failed to identify the errors in the design of the study with regards to conscious and unconscious bias and thus the published paper was interpreted as broadening inequities in surgery.

“It also became apparent that the authors did not receive the approval of the Association of Program Directors in Vascular Surgery (APDVS) to use its database in identifying the vascular surgeons in training who were evaluated for their participation in social media. The editors therefore decided there was sufficient rationale to retract the article.”

For his part, Dalman said that the SVS leadership concurred with the decision to retract the publication, agreeing that “there was clear unconscious bias and methodologic flaws in both the paper and the review process.”

In its constitution and bylaws, Dalman went on, the SVS “embraces the core values of diversity, inclusion, fairness and equity. As a professional medical and membership Society, the SVS is fully dedicated and focused on embracing and supporting the individual and collective efforts of its members in their pursuit of excellence. The publication of this paper in the Society’s journal was not aligned with these essential core values and has prompted the SVS to accelerate changes already underway to significantly improve the culture of the JVS, the Society and the specialty.

“Over one year ago the SVS formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force to look at the breadth and scope of SVS and make recommendations to strengthen the Society’s alignment to its core value on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The report of the Task Force and its recommendations will be presented to the Executive Board on July 29.”

Senior author on the study, Alik Farber (Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, USA) took to Twitter to issue his own mea culpa. “As the senior author of the manuscript entitled ‘Prevalence of unprofessional social media content among young vascular surgeons,’ I want to personally apologise to everyone for the pain and negative impact that this paper has caused to so many people,” he wrote.

“Although this was not our intent we were clearly off base. As such, we asked the Journal of Vascular Surgery to retract this paper. Our methodology and design was flawed and could lead to the ugliness of gender bias that is a basis of sexism and intolerance.”


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