Does haste make waste? Prevalence and types of errors reported after publication of studies of COVID-19 therapeutics.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred publication of a rapid proliferation of studies on potential therapeutic agents. While important for the advancement of clinical care, pressure to collect, analyze, and report data in an expedited manner could potentially increase the rate of important errors, some of which would be captured in published errata. We hypothesized that COVID-19 therapeutic studies published in the early years of the pandemic would be associated with a high rate of published errata and that, within these errata, there would be a high prevalence of serious errors. We performed a review of published errata associated with empirical studies of COVID-19 treatments. Errata were identified via a MEDLINE and Embase search spanning January 2020 through September 2022. Errors located within each published erratum were characterized by location within publication, error type, and error seriousness. Of 47 studies on COVID-19 treatments with published errata, 18 met inclusion criteria. Median time from publication of the original article to publication of the associated erratum was 76 days (range, 12-511 days). A majority of errata addressed issues with author attribution or conflict of interest disclosures (39.5%) or numerical results (25.6%). Only one erratum contained a serious error: a typographical error which could have misled readers into believing that the treatment in question had serious adverse effects when in fact it did not. Despite accelerated publication times, we found among studies of COVID-19 treatments the majority of errata (17/18) reported minor errors that did not lead to misinterpretation of the study results. Retractions, an indicator of scientific misdirection even more concerning than errata, were beyond the scope of this review.