Top Retraction Watch posts of 2010, and a short wish list for 2011

Bronze statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, by sculptor Lorenzo Coullaut Valera, at the Plaza de España in Madrid. Photo by Zaqarbal via Wikimedia

2010 was a busy year at Retraction Watch. (Well, actually the first seven months of it weren’t busy at all, since we didn’t launch until August.) We’ve published 88 posts, an average of about four per week.

We no longer wonder whether we’ll have enough material to post frequently, as Adam told The New York Times we did when we launched. We weren’t the only ones. Here’s Paul Raeburn, writing in the Knight Science Journalism Tracker:

I confess that when Retraction Watch appeared, I predicted (silently, so nobody could catch me on it later) that it would die a slow death, because there would be too few retractions to justify paying attention to this worthy but misguided endeavor.

For what must surely be the first time in my reporting career, I was wrong.

Here are our most popular posts of 2010, followed by a short wish list for 2011:

  1. Did Jesus cure a woman with the flu?
  2. Amy Wagers’ retraction of a major stem cell paper published in Nature, which led to some follow-up posts
  3. A report on Harvard’s Marc Hauser and his retraction of a paper in Cognition
  4. A post on the first four retractions by noted gene therapy researcher Savio Woo (he would eventually retract six after firing two post-docs)
  5. The retraction of a paper by top German anesthesiologist Joachim Boldt, which would also lead to some follow-up posts

It’s hard to say whether these five, or the other 83, highlight any particular trends. This is still a pretty small sample size. But we do have three retraction wishes for 2011:

  1. Less use of “withdrawn” and “retracted” for publisher glitches. Why should an author be forced to list a “retraction” or “withdrawal” on his or her CV, when it was completely the fault of a journal publisher who screwed up? That’s what happened to neurologist Michael Levy when he wrote a study about mortality among pro boxers, and to three authors who published in Haematologica, among other cases. Isn’t there a better way to describe these mishaps?
  2. Better publicity for retractions. Call us journalists or something, but we like transparency. We applauded Nature‘s commitment to send out a press release about any retracted study which they had originally press-released, but we think journals should go even further. Science, for example, includes retractions in their press materials whenever they appear. That seems like the best policy. But if everyone at least took Nature‘s approach, we wouldn’t have to be exasperated at journals like PNAS which don’t press-release any retractions, regardless of how much press coverage the original study received.
  3. Better explanations of why papers are being retracted. It shouldn’t take calls and emails from Retraction Watch, or any other interested party, to find out exactly why a study is being withdrawn. Do a search for “opaque” in our archives to find just some of the examples of mysterious and unhelpful retraction notices. Here, we recommend the Elsevier retraction notice policy, with some caveats. Elsevier journals are supposed to include a detailed editor’s note with every retraction. A quick look at our archives, however, suggests that implementation of this policy is uneven.

Thanks to everyone who read Retraction Watch, who sent feedback and criticism, or tipped us off to good items. We couldn’t have done it without you. Happy New Year.

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