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Improvement!: One third science journals have no retraction policy

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But that’s a big improvement, says Retraction Watch:

Here:

One hundred forty-seven journals (74%) responded to a request for information. Of these, 95 (65%) had a retraction policy. Of journals with a retraction policy, 94% had a policy that allows the editors to retract articles without authors’ consent.

Why it isn’t simple:

Retracting scientific papers can pose ethical and legal challenges for journal editors and publishers [1, 2]. The easiest cases occur when the authors all agree that the paper should be retracted due to serious error or misconduct. In harder cases, the authors do not all agree that a paper should be retracted. For example, one author may oppose retraction, believing that a serious flaw identified in the paper affects only a part of the research and not the entire study. If the authors do not all agree on the decision to retract a paper, the editor must decide whether to retract a paper without consent of all of the authors. If a paper is retracted without the consent of all authors, a journal may face the threat of litigation from dissenting authors. When editors receive allegations of research misconduct related to a published paper, they must decide how to deal with these accusations and whether to retract a paper suspected of being affected by misconduct. Editors may decide not to retract a paper until misconduct is confirmed by the author’s institution, although they may publish an expression of concern while an investigation is ongoing or in the absence of a proper investigation.

A bit off topic for our list, you say? Well, okay, we’re just coming off a long weekend here at UD News in Canada (and that means a very long weekend). And sensible retraction policies are a good way of defending the best against the rest.

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5 Replies to “Improvement!: One third science journals have no retraction policy

  1. 1
    bFast says:

    “sensible retraction policies are a good way of defending the best against the rest.”
    Mind if I respectfully disagree? If a paper is in error, let it stay published, let the rebuttal be published as well. I say, keep the errors visible, that’s much more damning than having the errors retracted, and removed from public history.

  2. 2
    Bob O'H says:

    bFast – if a paper merely contains errors then retraction may not be the best way to deal with it. For example, a Correction or Corrigendum could be published. Retractions should be reserved for something more serious, e.g. if there are sufficiently serious ethical issues, or if there’s a serious error that makes the results utterly wrong and useless (e.g. if the wrong reagents were used by mistake, or a serious software bug made the analyses garbage).

  3. 3
    johnnyb says:

    I agree with bFast. Personally, I think retractions should only happen for extremely gross error or misconduct. Being wrong certainly shouldn’t pose a problem in science. I think perhaps what we need are more forward pointers on papers, perhaps a public database of “if you wanted to cite this paper, look at this one instead”, indexed by DOI. Then, if an editor receives a paper referencing a DOI in the index, they can suggest to the authors to read the updated paper / response / whatever, and see if they need to modify their citations, results, discussion, etc.

  4. 4
    Roy says:

    “Bio-complexity” doesn’t appear to have a retraction policy…

  5. 5
    Bob O'H says:

    johnnyb – yes, that’s precisely how retraction is used.

    As for links between papers, Web of Science does this, although you have to pay for access. Google Scholar also does it, and some journals do give links to (some) papers citing a paper. I’d love it if there was a public database like the one you mention (Google Scholar isn’t quite that), but it would take a lot of resources, and need coordination between a lot of different groups.

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