Slate retracts story it says didn't meet verification, fairness standards

Hat tip to the folks at the great Retraction Watch blog for spotting this notable Slate retraction from Wednesday night:

On Feb. 17, 2012, Slate published an article titled “The Celltex Affair: An Ethics Scandal Strikes the World of Bioethics.” Because of shortcomings in the editorial process, the article did not meet Slate’s standards for verification and fairness and should not have been published. We withdraw the article and apologize to Dr. Glenn McGee.

McGee is a well known bioethicist who has been the subject of many press reports. (He's often described as controversial.) Late Wednesday night McGee confirmed on Twitter he had resigned from his post at Celltex Therapeutics as of February 28. Retraction Watch has more background, which is helpful since Slate unpublished the offending piece and replaced it with the editor's note. Slate editor David Plotz isn't offering additional details. He told Retraction Watch:

Because of shortcomings in our editorial process, the article did not meet Slate standards. That is all Slate is going to say about the matter.

That's not exactly a satisfactory explanation. What are these shortcomings and how are they being addressed? Have they played a role in other Slate reporting, and will those articles also be unpublished and retracted? How is it the story remained online from February 17 until the 29 without the publication realizing the problems with the story and the editorial process?

As for the piece itself, some parts of it have survived the unpublishing. For example, there's a brief excerpt in a blog post by the article's author, bioethicist Carl Elliott:

The most troubling question about this entire affair turns on the relationship between McGee, Celltex, and RNL. Did McGee help whitewash two deaths from stem cell treatments and parlay that whitewash into a corporate position?

Even phrased as a question, that's a significant accusation -- and apparently one that Slate came to realize it could not stand behind.

Retraction Watch got this comment from Elliott:

The withdrawal seemed to me to be driven entirely by fear of litigation. Their main fear seemed to be my referring to McGee’s unpleasant departure from Albany Medical College, which had been reported in Scientific American.

Correction: This post originally said the quote from Carl Elliott had come from Jim Romenesko's site. In fact, Romenesko was quoting the post by Retraction Watch.

  • Craig Silverman

    Craig Silverman ( is an award-winning journalist and the founder of Regret the Error, a blog that reports on media errors and corrections, and trends regarding accuracy and verification.


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