Happy anniversary, Retraction Watch: What we’ve learned, and what’s in store for year two
Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the launch of Retraction Watch. We’d like to thank our readers, tipsters, and fans for your support and feedback — and our helpful critics who have spurred us to do better.
Over the past 12 months we’ve written more than 250 posts about retractions ranging from the extraordinary — think Joachim Boldt and his 90-odd withdrawals, and the Byzantine case of Silvia Bulfone-Paus — to the trivial (much of the plagiarism, for instance); the laudable (a swift one in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, to pick one) to the ludicrous (the reason for that retraction is “none of your damn business,” one editor told us).
We haven’t done a careful count — more on more rigorous indexing later — but those posts cover something like 200 retractions, given that there are more than 120 between just Boldt, Bulfone-Paus, and Naoki Mori. That is unusually high activity for a 12-month period; the annual average for the previous 10 years was about 80. (Let us be the first to point out that any correlation between our founding and that high number does not imply causation.)
We made a rather presumptuous promise when we started this project. Namely, that by writing about retractions we would be opening a window onto the world of scientific publishing, and, by implication, science itself. Indeed, we encountered more than a little skepticism at first. But we believe the stories we’ve relayed to our growing and, we’ll note, overwhelmingly enthusiastic readership, have made good on that promise.
One way to measure that enthusiasm is traffic. We’ve logged more than 800,000 pageviews, and more than 650 of you have signed up for our emails. Thousands more are RSS subscribers. (What, you aren’t subscribed either of those ways? For shame. Go over to our right-hand column and do it. We’ll wait.)
So what have we seen? Well, for starters, it’s pretty clear that retractions are newsworthy, especially for members of the scientific community. And we believe the appeal is not, as some have suggested, the train-wreck draw of scandal or base schadenfreude. Your comments reflect a deep concern with scientific integrity, with correcting the scientific record, and with justifiable pride when people do the right thing.
We’ve also found significant variations when it comes to handling retractions. Many editors strive for transparency in their retraction notices, offering detailed explanations for what went wrong — and, in the process, revealing the best aspects of a scientific approach to information. Others think the facts are “none of your damn business,” or tell curious readers to ask the retracted authors to supply them. In our view, that attitude betrays a contempt of both a journal’s readership and the essence of science, which at its most fundamental is the promulgation of knowledge and truth.
Okay, that’s a little self-serving; after all, we’re in this to tell good stories, and people who get in the way of that fall to the bottom of our holiday gift list. But we’ll stand by the point. Publishers and editors of science journals ultimately serve not only their readers but the entire science community. That’s one reason we deplore paywalls for retraction notices and urge journals that issue press releases when papers come out to do the same when that article is later retracted.
So what can you expect in year two? Well, in keeping with the fact that we rely so heavily on our readers for support and tips, we asked some of you for suggestions. Here are some highlights, and who suggested them:
- Video dispatches, in which we discuss retractions and offer commentary (Gary Schwitzer, publisher of Health News Review)
- Events, perhaps organized at universities around talks about scientific integrity and the publishing process (“Clare Francis,” a prolific pseudonymous tipster)
- More retractions from disciplines outside of the life sciences (Liz Wager, chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics and author of COPE’s retraction guidelines)
- Maps of retractions, including a social network showing citations and influence (Clare Francis and Bill Heisel, a contributing editor at Reporting on Health and the creator of Antidote)
- A database of retraction notices (multiple requests over the year)
We like them all. And we’ve taken the first important step toward the last two, in time for this anniversary. If you look over at the right side of this page (you may have to scroll up), you’ll see a widget, “Retraction posts by author, country, journal, subject, and type.” Hit the dropdown menu. Those categories — and we’re only about halfway through tagging all our posts — could be used to populate a map, a database, or just give other reporters interesting story ideas.
We plan on experimenting with video, too. And anyone want to host a Retraction Watch event? (Maybe we’ll have t-shirts by then, just like our friends at the Journal of Universal Rejection.)
Again, thanks to all of our readers. We’re in this for the long haul, and we hope you’ll never have a reason to retract your support.