Brigham and Women's Hospital retracts questionable study

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston is taking back its support of a study about the alleged connection between artificial sweeteners and cancer, citing "weak" evidence, Reuters reported. The Harvard-affiliated hospital also apologized for wasting journalists' time.

In the peer-reviewed American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, Brigham and Women's researchers discovered some increased risks of cancers that could be associated with aspartame, but they acknowledged that chance could have influenced the results.

"There was no significant association between soda intake and risks of [non-Hodgkin lymphomas] and multiple myeloma," the study states.

Despite finding no significant connection, the hospital highlighted the study in a press release but later told reporters in an email that its media relations team was "premature" in promoting the work, Forbes noted.

The situation demonstrates several PR "oops" hospitals need to avoid when conducting and promoting medical research. Given the lack of strong evidence, the hospital's researchers shouldn't have submitted their study for publication in the first place and the journal shouldn't have published it. And the hospital's PR department shouldn't have promoted the "sham study," Forbes noted.

Brigham and Women's PR blunder comes a few weeks after a separate study found fraud in scientific research is growing at an alarming rate, according to the Associated Press. The percentage of studies withdrawn from medical and biological peer-reviewed journals because of fraud or suspected fraud jumped from fewer than 10 fraud retractions for every 1 million studies published in 1976 to 96 retractions per million in 2007.

For more:
- read the Forbes article
- here's the Reuters article
- check out the study abstract
- here's the AP article