A new analysis of retractions from Korean journals reveals some interesting trends.
For one, the authors found most papers in Korean journals are retracted for duplication (57%), a higher rate than what’s been reported in other studies. The authors also deemed some retractions were “inappropriate” according to guidelines established by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) — for instance, retracting the article another paper duplicated from, or pulling a paper when an erratum would have sufficed.
One sentence from “Characteristics of Retractions from Korean Medical Journals in the KoreaMed Database: A Bibliometric Analysis,” however, particularly struck us:
Interestingly, there was no fabrication or falsification in Korea.
That’s not likely true, according to Ferric Fang at the University of Washington, who studies retractions (and is a board member of our parent non-profit organization). For instance, many readers remember the infamous case of Woo-Suk Hwang, a researcher in South Korea who was found guilty of fraud in his research on stem cells.
KoreaMed represents only 235 journals that are published in Korea (http://www.koreamed.org/
JournalBrowserNew.php). This is a very small subset (< 1%) of all journals. I would certainly not conclude that ‘there is no fabrication or falsification in Korea’….It is possible that there is no fabrication or falsification in Korean medical journals because they are of relatively low impact, and researchers motivated to commit fraud might aspire to publication in international journals.
The impact factor of the journals included in this analysis may also explain why the authors found a relatively high rate of duplication, Fang added, relative to his 2012 PNAS paper, which reported a duplication rate of 14% among retracted biomedical papers in PubMed:
In our 2012 analysis, Grant Steen, Arturo Casadevall and I found that retractions for duplicate publication tended to occur in journals with lower impact factors in comparison to fraud and error. Perhaps that is a contributory factor in the findings of this study, which focused on Korean publications. The authors don’t report the journal impact factors, but I suspect that they are relatively low given their specialized focus.
We also took note of how many papers the authors thought were retracted inappropriately — they deemed 26 of the 114 retracted papers (22.8%) to be “inappropriate,” such as pulling the original article of a duplicate pair, or a valid paper affected by an author dispute. In one-third of retractions, the authors couldn’t determine whether or not the retraction was appropriate.
The authors note:
Therefore, editors of Korean medical journals should take careful note of the COPE retraction guidelines and should undergo training on appropriate retraction practices.
Fang told us he was wary of these figures, as notices are not often an appropriate tool to judge the appropriateness of retracting a paper:
I would be reluctant to judge the appropriateness of a retraction based solely on the retraction notice. We have found retraction notices to be very variable in accuracy and completeness.
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