Most retractions happen in the dark: An article appears in print. One day it is withdrawn, with only a brief paragraph or two on the page to alert us to its fate.
On rare occasions, however, the process is more transparent, and when that happens it’s like the publishing equivalent of a supernova, a chance to glimpse in (here’s where the cosmic analogy stalls) almost real-time the retraction as it unfolds.
Here’s one of those unusual events.
The Journal of Clinical Rheumatology this week has retracted a March 2010 paper by Ni and colleagues in China, in which the authors reported that elderly women with osteoarthritis of the knee gained significant improvement in physical function and pain from a six-week course of tai chi. That claim is hardly controversial—other researchers have produced similar results and published studies of tai chi’s benefits for arthritis patients date back nearly a decade on Medline.
It takes decades, and even centuries, to overturn the Catholic canon of law, but medical journals move much more quickly: Just three weeks after the Virology Journal published a paper speculating that a woman described in the Bible as being “cured by our Lord Jesus Christ” had flu, the journal has apologized for ever posting it online.
Readers of three science publications may be wondering, “Where in the world were the editors?” after retractions appeared recently in the journals sounding the same theme: The articles in question had too much “overlap” between previous publications.
For example, the Journal of Fish Biology notice reads, in part: “The retraction has been agreed due to overlap between this article and several previously published articles.”