That’s because it looks like IEEE may have retracted thousands of meeting abstracts. Yes, thousands.
We don’t know the exact number, but a search for “retraction” in the abstracts of the 2011 International Conference on E-Business and E-Government (ICEE), held May 6-8 2011, brings up 1,281 results.
The same search on the site of the 5th International Conference on Bioinformatics and Biomedical Engineering (iCBBE), May 10-12, 2011, brings up 1,085 results.
We only opened the first few retraction notices, but they seem to all be the same. Headed “Notice of Retraction,” they read:
After careful and considered review of the content of this paper by a duly constituted expert committee, this paper has been found to be in violation of IEEE’s Publication Principles.
We hereby retract the content of this paper. Reasonable effort should be made to remove all past references to this paper.
The presenting author of this paper has the option to appeal this decision by contacting TPII@ieee.org.
Not all the abstracts from the meetings appear to have been pulled, as the main abstract page for the ICEE meeting shows more than 2,300 results.
We also saw this note, which appears to affect more than 50 additional conferences (including the 2012 ICEE and iCBBE meetings):
IEEE has a long-standing commitment to ensuring the high quality of its conferences and of the conference proceedings published in IEEE Xplore®.
Through its regular conference quality-monitoring process, IEEE became aware of inconsistencies in some conferences with regard to the quality of the peer review and technical program development. In 2010, IEEE launched an in-depth investigation through its Technical Program Integrity Committee, a volunteer-based committee responsible for ensuring the quality of IEEE publications.
The committee concluded that the procedures followed by the technical program organizers of certain conferences were insufficient to assure compliance with IEEE’s high standards for quality publications. Therefore, IEEE has decided not to publish the proceedings from these conferences in IEEE Xplore. A list of conferences impacted since 1 January 2012 can be found below.
Where copyrights were transferred to IEEE, those transfers of rights are now null and void and revert back to the authors. Authors wishing confirmation of their copyright ownership should complete the form below. Upon receipt, IEEE will send a confirmation e-mail indicating that the transfer of copyright for the author’s paper is now “null and void” as provided on the IEEE Copyright Form, and that the author is the copyright owner of the paper.
If Copyright Forms have not yet been signed and transmitted, then copyright will remain with the author. In either case, the authors are free to seek publication of their papers in other journals or venues.
From the language, we can’t tell if these are official “retractions” or not — “decided not to publish” could mean the proceedings never appeared in the first place. But the meetings in the note above range in years from 2012 to 2014, so depending on when the note was published, some of the conference proceedings may have already appeared.
We emailed and called press contacts at IEEE, and got this statement (which unfortunately still leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions):
On an annual basis, IEEE works with more than 400,000 authors worldwide to deliver quality content in the academic publishing industry. To ensure that IEEE’s global quality control process is followed IEEE maintains strict governance guidelines for evaluating IEEE conferences and publications. Unfortunately sometimes we are faced with issues. In these instances, IEEE takes steps to mitigate their effect and preserve the value of our content.
The episode raises flashbacks from another major retraction from IEEE, when the publisher and Springer pulled some 120 papers created with random paper generator SCIgen. Springer’s final report on that episode can be found here.
Update 5:59 p.m. eastern 6/25/16: In response to a follow-up question about how many retractions have occurred and when, an IEEE spokesperson told us:
IEEE is committed to providing superior quality in our published materials. For IEEE, the need to inspect our digital library and to retract, if necessary, is not a one-time occurrence but an ongoing process. As a result, it is not feasible to specify the exact number of articles involved at any single point in time. In addition, to limit the number of retractions that are necessary we have developed a process to screen materials prior to submission to IEEE Xplore®. When we discover content that does not meet our standards, we address the matter quickly.
We also asked for more information about this note, and whether it describes retractions or papers that never appeared, and got this response:
The notice you referenced is informational and for guidance to authors if their paper has been retracted or not in the IEEE fields of interest.
Hat tip: Matt Hodgkinson
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