Ask Retraction Watch: Can data from retracted papers be republished?

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Another installment of Ask Retraction Watch. A reader asks:

I was curious, what happens to papers after retraction?

In some cases the papers are retracted by authors claiming that they found some error in the data. As I know, that retraction means that paper is retracted from the whole literature. If the original authors want to publish part of the paper or the whole paper itself after removing or correcting the erroneous part, is that OK? Or are they guilty of duplication?

If the authors want to republish the corrected data, should they inform the editors about earlier retraction or not? I believe if they inform the editors, they will spoil any chance of the paper being accepted.

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10 thoughts on “Ask Retraction Watch: Can data from retracted papers be republished?”

  1. It seems to me that if this happened (retracted paper successfully accepted for publication), the editor should publish, in the same edition, a short comment about the situation. Simply publishing the paper without comment is likely to lead to confusion.

    1. Interesting question. Obviously, the publication of previously retracted data would depend on the basis for the retraction. Thus, I suppose that there could be cases for which there are good reasons for publishing genuine, untainted data from a previously retracted paper. My own preference, however, would be for the authors of the paper themselves to include an explanatory note within the paper that would alert readers as to the basis for the earlier retraction with assurances added about the validity of the current data. The journal editor can, of course, add his own commentary. But I think it is crucial for the paper itself to make the provenance of the data clear to readers of that paper.

      1. I agree. However, the journal editor is the one who must make the “go/no go” call. It is up to him/her to justify the decision. The paper is not the issue. It is the publication, and that is an editorial call. The statement of the editor is more important. If Potti were to submit a paper for publication which redid one of his papers, the editor would need to justify that publication decision.

        1. And when all else fails, send it off to a predatory journal ( that will accept anything, for a fee. While the elitists of the publishing world in the West grapple what to do with so many rules, the fraudsters and the publishing pool of the developing world (broad generalization) don’t give a damn. I have spotted so many papers that contain plagiarized text and duplicate figures. Yet, despite alerting the editors and the publisher, the papers remain intact. So, independent of the ethics of re-publishing retracted data, UNFORTUNATELY (I believe due to the limitless options provided by the open access movement), there will always be a home for fraudulent, biased, incorrect, or bad science.

          1. To give you one example of the tip of the ice-berg in this field of research, these authors republished the whole paper, but indicated that it had previously been published in another title by the same publisher:
            Scialert is a Pakistani publisher. I think this is downright unethical, even with a declaration, a sloppy one at that, simply because several of these predatory journals don’t share the same ethics or values as Western publishers, and for them, two duplicated copies of the same work is OK.

          2. The question is if the authors are honest and if they found some error in there published paper and gone for retraction. If only say a part of data have some trouble and otherwise data is good I will definitely say it should be republished with either corrected data or removal of error part. Let it go for the the peer review again. Yes, but I agree that editors will have a bit trouble to accept a retracted paper as these days journals have high number of submissions.

          3. It is unfair to comment that eastern or developing countries have more fraud, biased, incorrect papers published.

  2. This issue is interesting, and, methinks more complex than would appear at first glance!

    Assumption: A published article should contain experiments whose results would be worth knowing to someone.
    Therefore: If an experiment from a retracted article is completed in an ethical manner, it should be published.

    More complex questions that arise:
    1) A retraction does not remove a copyright. Another group can’t just swoop in, take the text word for word and do the experiments themselves. But what if another group does the experiments described in the retracted paper, plagiarizing the thoughts and ideas from the retracted paper but in their own wording? The scientific community has a valid interest in knowing the correct answer to the experiments… but this is plagiarism by definition unless the retracted work is clearly cited.
    2) Do the authors have to get permission from the copyright owner (e.g. the journal) to republish it in part or does retraction remand the copyright solely to the original authors to do as they please?
    3) Do journals have an ethical responsibility to publish, with explanation, the corrected version of an manuscript that they retracted if they no longer have a reasonable doubt as to the validity of the results? My gut thinks yes… but that this somehow shouldn’t benefit the authors.

    Personal opinion: I believe that most/all journals have an editorial policy that a particular work must not have been published before in whole or part. I have never seen an “unless retracted” clause. Therefore, as published is past tense, this would apply regardless of whether the work is presently in the scientific literature (you can retract a scientific paper, but you can’t annul it, catholic marriage style). I would think then that it would only be ethical to submit something that had EVER appeared in the literature, in part or whole, if a disclaimer was made to the editor for an exception to the published policy. I would then expect an explanation in the article itself (after all, it IS taking something from a copyrighted work) AND a letter from the editor explaining why the published editorial policy was waved. I do think that it’s a bit sad that this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often.

    1. This is an interesting question. The point about copyright and plagiarism is well made: after all, re-use of data in different papers is misconduct. So that would suggest that you cannot re-use the data.
      However, if the paper was retracted due to a reagent mix up, but the actual data are meaningful, then one would have to go to the editor and explain. Either than or, better, just do the experiments again, triple checking reagents!
      So i would say no, with the above caveat.

      1. What happens if the publisher ceases to exist, the journal dies (as appears to have occurred with the Romanian journal highlighted elsewhere on this blog) or the author decides that they would like to try for a higher level journal? Can they request a retraction and then re-submit elsewhere? In the first two cases, if there are no longer any contacts or authorities who can process the request for retraction prior to re-submission, are there only two options: a) tough luck; b) re-submit but make a full declaration to the editors of the new journal about the full situation?

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