Are Mathematically or Logically Contradictory Statements in a Manuscript a Sign that the Whole Study is Unreliable?

Cole, et al.[1] found that logical discrepancies in a manuscript are associated with unreliable studies. So unreliable that they had to be retracted. In fact discrepancy counts are 2.7-fold higher in retracted reports than in unretracted reports, according to this blinded case-controlled study. However, the prevalence of retraction is extremely low, so the probability that a study with lots of discrepancies warrants retraction is also very low – remember posterior odds = prior odds x likelihood ratio. In short it is a lousy diagnostic (or even screening) test. This study reminded the CLAHRC WM Director of a study conducted in our precursor CLAHRC pilot [2] where it was found that doctors who make minor errors are more likely to make serious errors but where, again, statistical significance did not entail clinical significance.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Cole GD, Nowbar AN, Mielewczik M, et al. Frequency of discrepancies in retracted clinical trial reports versus unretracted reports: blinded case-control study. BMJ. 2015; 351: h4708.
  2. Coleman JJ, Hemming K, Nightingale PG, et al. Can an electronic prescribing system detect doctors who are more likely to make a serious prescribing error? J R Soc Med. 2011; 104(5): 208-18.

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