For several years, along with many other neuroendocrine cancer patients, I have been attempting to persuade the University Health Network (UHN) and U of T to rescind their extreme punishment of Dr. Shereen Ezzat and Dr. Sylvia Asa over minor problems in a handful of hundreds of their publications. While UHN paid expensive lawyvers to defense its decision, our patient community has felt abandoned by UHN and U of T. Research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN. Since the doctors’ teaching privileges have also been terminated, local and international doctors can no longer experience their professional expertise. Neuroendocrine cancer is now thought to be the fastest growing cancer in the world. Because of the devastating results of its decision about such minor research problems, we are left with no other conclusion than that UHN and U of T had other reasons to demand retractions, shut down their labs, and fire Asa.

— Robert Haughian, neuroendocrine cancer patient

The great value of this article is to make clear the wide range of what may cause an essay to be ‘retracted,’ from the truly dishonest and plagiaristic to the trivial and easily rectified. It seems clear that the work of Asa and Ezzat falls in the latter category, but UHN’s relentless punishment of them does give substance to other commentators’ suspicions that UHN had its own reasons for wanting them gone. Not only does the entire episode seem shameful, but it also compromises the ability of two fine doctors to continue the full care of the many patients whose lives literally depend of them.

— Frederick Asals, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Journalism standards at the University of Toronto Varsity newspaper need some attention in this day and age of misinformation campaigns using social media. The article discusses the termination of Dr. Shereen Ezzat’s position within the University Health Network (UHN), yet Dr. Ezzat is still listed as a member of the Medical and Community Care program in the Endocrine Clinic of the Princess Margaret Hospital, an institution within the UHN. The article interviews Dr. Sylvia Asa with regards to retractions listed in the Retraction Watch database, yet publishes no interview material with anyone from Retraction Watch, nor anyone involved with the internal investigation committee. A letter to the editor by Robert Haughian discusses the UHN paying “expensive lawyers,” yet it was Drs. Asa and Ezzat who initially hired a lawyer and submitted court challenges to this academic investigation.  The UHN had no choice at that point but to engage lawyers of their own. Robert Haughian states that “research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN,” yet the UHN’s website discusses this issue directly, clearly stating that “the NETs program continues to be an integral component of UHN’s service offerings.”  Why was no one from the Princess Margaret Hospital interviewed and quoted in coverage of this saga? A disingenuous petition drive has also been started and addressed at the UHN web page linked above.

Nowhere in The Varsity’s coverage of this saga is any discussion of harms that can happen to patients based on inappropriate research. Effective treatment strategies are delayed and inappropriate treatment suggestions offered in journal articles whose primary evidence is not scientifically solid. To continually offer defence to scientific researchers with year after year of problematic publications well-documented in a public and court-reviewed document readily available at the UHN website linked above is a disservice to patients facing such challenging diseases.

— Steven McKinney

Editor’s Note (January 9): This collection of letters has been updated to include Steven McKinney’s correspondence.