An article published in March in the Journal of the American Heart Association that raised a ruckus on #medtwitter this week has now been retracted.
It’s unclear what prompted the public explosion of anger, sadness, and recrimination that ultimately led to the retraction of this article – which flew almost completely under the radar when it first appeared online and in print – but it’s crystal clear why it might offend.
To many readers, the paper, written by Norman C. Wang, MD, MSc, an electrophysiologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is a “racist” rant that relies on half-truths (J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Mar 24.).
Officially, the article, “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity: Evolution of Race and Ethnicity Considerations for the Cardiology Workforce in the United States of America From 1969 to 2019,” was retracted after the American Heart Association “became aware of serious concerns after publication. The author’s institution, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, has notified the Editor‐in‐Chief that the article contains many misconceptions and misquotes and that together those inaccuracies, misstatements, and selective misreading of source materials strip the paper of its scientific validity,” the retraction reads (J Am Heart Assoc. 2020 Aug 6. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.119.014602).
The journal will be publishing a detailed rebuttal, the notice adds: “This retraction notice will be updated with a link to the rebuttal when it publishes.”
“The Editor‐in‐Chief deeply regrets publishing the article and offers his apologies,” it further reads. “The American Heart Association and the Editor‐in‐Chief have determined that the best interest of the public and the research community will be served by issuing this notice of retraction. The author does not agree to the retraction.”
In the paper, Dr. Wang argues that affirmative action policies designed to increase minority representation in medical schools and cardiovascular training programs result in unqualified applicants being admitted, where they will struggle to succeed.
The article itself is a dense review of the topic of diversity, inclusion, and equity, aiming to “critically assess current paradigms, and to consider potential solutions to anticipated challenges,” according to its author. Supported by 108 references, Dr. Wang concludes with a lengthy quote from tennis great Arthur Ashe, an opponent of affirmative action who died in 1993.
Affirmative action, said Mr. Ashe, is “an insult to the people it intended to help.” Dr. Wang suggests that “racial and ethnic preferences for undergraduate and medical school admissions should be gradually rolled back with a target end year of 2028.”
He cites the $16 billion in federal funding that cardiovascular disease training programs receive every year to support graduate medical education in support of this contention.
“My entire lived experience contradicts everything in that racist @JAHA_AHA article, as does the experience of so many others. So, I know it’s just a bad opinion piece passed off as ‘research’ that shouldn’t have been published. Still the damage has been done. We MUST do better,” tweeted Bryan A. Smith, MD, University of Chicago Medicine.
According to its Altmetric score, the article received very little attention back in March and April. There were three tweets referencing it, including one from JAHA announcing its publication. Since Aug. 2, an additional 390-odd Tweets from 347 Twitter users have been registered. None appear to be complimentary. Several days into the Twitter storm, the article was officially retracted.
“This article is shocking and makes me sad,” Martha Gulati, MD, University of Arizona, Phoenix, said in an interview. “We are all working so hard to make cardiology more inclusive and diverse, and this takes us like 1,000 steps backwards.”
For her part, Dr. Gulati would have liked a retraction earlier in the week. “The analysis was selective and incorrect, and the statements made intimate that minority trainees were selected based on affirmative action rather than their merits,” she said. It also suggested that their presence was representative of a decline in standards in cardiology programs that take underrepresented minorities (URMs).