Retraction Watch is growing, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation

macarthurDear Retraction Watch readers, we have some exciting news to share.

After more than four years, 2,000 posts, and incredible responses from the scientific community, we are thrilled to announce that The Center For Scientific Integrity, a not-for-profit corporation we’ve established, has been awarded a $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation to expand the work of Retraction Watch.

The goal of the grant — $200,000 per year for two years — is to create a comprehensive and freely available database of retractions, something that doesn’t now exist, as we and others have noted. That, we wrote in our proposal, is

a gap that deprives scholarly publishing of a critical mechanism for self-correction.

While we’re able to cover somewhere around two-thirds of new retractions as they appear, we’ll need more resources to be comprehensive. Here’s more from our proposal:

The main benefit would be that scientists could use it when planning experiments and preparing manuscripts to make sure studies they would like to cite have not been the subject of a retraction, correction, expression of concern or similar action. Retracted studies are often cited as if they were still valid for data, see because publishers are not very efficient at notifying readers of retractions. And even when retractions are easy to find, the notices that accompany them are often opaque or misleading.

This resource would be vital for the academic community and is one about which we frequently are asked. The biotech and pharmaceutical industries also have a financial incentive to use this database. For example, two analyses – one by Bayer, another by Amgen – found that most compounds the companies licensed did not perform in the lab as described in the literature.

Investigators studying research integrity could use Retraction Watch data to explore questions related to the nature of retractions, as Fang, Casadevall and Steen did in 2012, for example and journalists could use it to add important detail and context to their articles. Institutions could use it in their inquiries about staff; government agencies could use it in their own investigations.

The funding will allow us to hire a reporter, an editor, and a database developer. (Retraction Watch remains a volunteer activity for Adam and Ivan, with any honoraria and payment for writing going toward expenses, including staff salaries.) In fact, we’ve already hired the reporter: Cat Ferguson, with whose byline readers will be familiar by now. Thanks to the generosity of you — our readers — we were able to hire Cat as an intern this summer. From day one, her work was terrific, and so when we had the chance in October, we made her a full-time employee.

That means we need a full-time editor, and a database developer, so please spread the word and get in touch if you know of any candidates.

In addition to the database, the grant will allow us to write more for other outlets, taking deeper dives, as we did in “The Peer Review Scam” for Nature last month.

Ivan discussed the grant on BioCentury This Week yesterday. Watch here.

Thank you, MacArthur Foundation, and thank you to all of our readers who’ve supported us, critiqued us, sent us tips, contributed financially, and much, much more. We’re eager to begin this new chapter with you.

52 thoughts on “Retraction Watch is growing, thanks to a $400,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation”

  1. If PubMed automatically watermarked retracted papers and Google Scholar, it would prevent people from reading retracted articles.

    If Mendeley and EndNote parsed libraries to detect retracted articles by PMCID, DOI or title, and marked them as retracted in your library, that’d be golden too.

    Then if editors had a faster way to detect citations of retracted articles, that’d be even better.

  2. Fantastic news guys, congratulations. What a perfect early Christmas present. I think that calls for a well deserved few glasses of bubbly.

  3. Absolutely amazing news, well done everyone!

    P.S. I wonder how the silly “Science Retractions” blog will cover this story? I know he reads the comments sections and he seems to pay especial attention to my comments. So here’s a tip for you Ariel, sorry, “Meng” – you could headline your post “MacArthur Prove They’re No Geniuses”?

  4. Retraction Watch is a wonderful achievement- congratulations.
    The database will no doubt be useful in all the ways you suggests.
    However what we really need is your continuing commentary on scientific integrity.
    Don’t fall for the allure of bureaucracy.

  5. Let me add my congratulations. I hope that you will soon receive a big grant to create an endowment to pay your expenses for years to come.

    For spreading the word about hiring a full-time editor and a database developer, it would be helpful to know where the editor and developer will be physically located.

  6. Great news and well deserved. I am particularly interested in the database, as a good resource for tracking issues is much needed.

  7. Great and exciting news Retraction watch. I hope you will soon expand your work and create investigative services to handle issues of detecting research misconduct in behind pay-wall publications. The scientific community is in desperate need for an impartial agency to whom suspicious articles can be reported.

  8. Congrats! Excellent work, and this will guarantee more to follow.

    I would be interested in what journals would be indexed in this database, and what kind of information beside article identifiers the database might hold, but perhaps that is a bit too early to ask.

    I copy “Deidentified”‘s comment above that it would be great if reference managers would in due time consult this database to alert the researcher of papers that should perhaps be excluded from his/her favorites.

    Wishing you best working on this!

    1. PubMed article type “Retraction of Publication” (“Retraction of Publication”[pt] ) goes up to ~3600 articles. From a 1959 notice at (

      “We publish this Note at this time because in the years that have passed since our original publication, and even now, the 1959 note has been quoted as a worthy piece of evidence. We ask to be spared the further embarrassment of having that earlier work cited in the reputable literature, and we hope we can spare other authors the labors
      of attempting to rationalize our aberrant data. ”

      Which is not a /bad/ reason to retract a paper. It does suggest that even in the late ’50s there was a temptation to publish a little too quickly…and sometimes people got burned for it.

  9. congrats Retraction Watch. To follow up on what Dave says above, it would be great if the article contents would be stored as well, because it’d make possible potential analyzes. Of course, i don’t know what the copyright issues around retracted article are and whether that is possible.

  10. Congratulation Ivan and all retraction watch team member. I wish you and your blog all the best for your work to maintain integrity of science. Merry Christmas and happy new year.

  11. This is terrific news- congratulations! This is so well-deserved and will really make a difference in so many areas of research!

  12. Great news! And so well deserved. You have shone far more light on misconduct in Canadian labs than the govt and univ investigators meant to be doing the job.

  13. On the question of developing a database, you might be better served to simply move to a more powerful web content management system like Drupal. It would provide a much richer framework for doing knowledge management and easily connects to Apache Solr, a powerful open source search engine that would allow you to set up faceted as well as keyword search.

  14. This is indeed a validation. Please continue the good work and build upon it. Might I suggest RW take a moment to consider the importance of its goals and responsibilities. I am sure you are already well-aware of it though. And I include us readers in that as well. Congratulations, well-deserved..

  15. This being new years day, I want to thank Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky for changing the
    attitudes of scientists worldwide. Of course each individual retraction is important. However they have changed the general point of view. People had begun to think that cheating was ok
    – indeed they still do- but retraction watch and the comments it elicits are changing this. The database is no doubt great. However the restoration of scientific ethics is vastly more important and we are in their debt for that. Thank you and happy new year

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