How well do journals publicize retractions?

bmc research notesA new paper in BMC Research Notes looks at the retraction class of 2008, and finds journals’ handling of them less than optimal.

Evelynne Decullier and colleagues — including Hervé Maisonneuve, who was helpful to us for a recent post — found:

Overall, 244 retractions were considered for analysis. Formal retraction notices could not be retrieved for 9. Of the 235 retractions available (96%), the reason was not detailed for 21 articles (9%). The most cited reasons were mistakes (28%), plagiarism (20%), fraud (14%) and overlap (11%). The original paper or its location was found for 233 retractions (95%). Of these, 22% were available with no mention of the retraction.

In 2009 — the year after the retractions Decullier and colleagues studied — the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) issued retraction guidelines. As the new paper’s authors note:

COPE’s guidelines also state that notices of retraction should clearly identify the retracted article (title and authors) and be linked with the retracted article. The notices should be available freely and state the reason for retraction (without being defamatory) and who is retracting.

It would be interesting, then, to do the same kind of analysis for papers retractions published in 2010, 2011, or 2012, to see if adherence to COPE’s suggestions for transparency had improved. When Grant Steen looked at a larger dataset of retractions over a decade, he found that 31% of retracted papers were not watermarked or otherwise flagged as withdrawn.

We also asked Ferric Fang, who co-authored a paper that revealed how poorly many retraction notices describe what had actually led to a withdrawal, for his take on the given reasons for retractions in the class of 2008:

The results of this study do not agree with ours, but this is not surprising since these authors relied upon retraction notices to ascertain the reason for retraction.

Our databases of articles were not precisely the same but should be similar.  I have looked at articles listed in our database that were retracted in 2008 and compared our results with those of Decullier et al..  Those authors report the distribution of reasons for retraction to be fraud (14%), error (28%), plagiarism (20%) and duplicate publication (11%). In contrast, during the same year we found fraud or suspected fraud (38%), error (17%), plagiarism (18%) and duplicate publication (14%).

This supports our conclusion that a reliance on retraction notices will result in an overestimation of error and an underestimation of fraud as reasons for retraction.  It also underscores the importance of sources such as Retraction Watch for understanding the true reason that an article has been retracted.

5 thoughts on “How well do journals publicize retractions?”

  1. The most silent retraction I know is the one found in the link below. The paper .pdf once available in this link was retracted for being a duplicate of another paper in the periodical Entomologia y Vectores. The authors were recently removed from the Search list and the .pdf of the paper also removed, however without any notice to readers. I wonder how many like this are our there.

  2. Considering the vast majority of articles is available from authors’ websites or institutional websites, I’m wondering how much value a retraction that remains constricted to the journal or conference page really has. Retractions should be publicized as widely as possible, especially to places like retractionwatch.

    1. Strangely, the BMC Research Notes web-site lists the html text, and the link above links to it. Unfortunately, pressing the PDF file button leads to a 0 kb file… Moreover, the Springer page of the same journal ( doesn’t even list this paper. Am I missing something? These are the same journal right? But why then does the paper only appear on one site but not the other?

        1. Without appearing to want to hog the comments section, I then followed the trail of the retracted BMC Research Notes paper by the Iranian group. What I found was that the group had already published the paper in African Journal of Biotechnology (, the golden goose of the predatory OA publihser, Academic Journals (Nigeria; What was also interesting to notice was the following. The AJB paper only listed the accepted date, no submission date published. Moreover, the BMC Research Notes lists the retracted paper’s received AND accepted date as being April 10, 2012. How can BMC have completed a peer review on the very same day? Surely, the AJB paper should have been retracted had the BMC staff contacted the Academic Journals staff? Shows that where there is business to be made, who cares about the ethics right? At least, that’s the underlying cosy message that BMC and Academic Journals are portraying.

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