With PubPeer and other online resources (such as PubMed Commons and our comment section), it’s never been easier for readers to raise public suspicions of published papers. But what should we do when we learn about potential problems in papers that are decades old, and all of the authors are deceased?
That’s the question we’re asking ourselves, after reading “Due process in the Twitter age,” this week’s editorial from Science editor Marcia McNutt.
She presents this compelling scenario:
Should there be a statute of limitation on retractions? Two panelists had experiences as editors with requests to retract papers that were published more than 50 years ago. This clearly raises the question of due process. None of the authors were alive to respond to the charges of misconduct. Only incomplete records survived regarding how decisions about those papers were made. The requests were declined. Although panelists did not come up with a fixed amount of time beyond which a paper would be too old to retract, consideration of a paper’s current influence and whether evidence exists to provide due process should weigh into the course of action in such cases.
Some rules exist — the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, for instance, will only investigate allegations of misconduct that occurred within the previous six years, with some exceptions (such as if the alleged misdeeds had a potentially major impact on public health).
Tell us what you think in the poll below. If you answer “yes,” you can post a comment explaining how long you believe the period of limitation should be.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our new daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.