At least one-third of top science journals lack a retraction policy — a big improvement

jmlaMore than one third — 35% — of the world’s top-ranked science journals that responded to a survey don’t have a retraction policy, according to a new study. And that’s a dramatic improvement over findings of a similar study a little more than a decade ago.

For the new paper, “Retraction policies of top scientific journals ranked by impact factor,” David Resnik, Grace Kissling, and Elizabeth Wager (a member of the board of directors of The Center For Scientific Integrity, our parent non-profit organization) surveyed 200 science journals with the highest impact factors about their retraction policies. About three-quarters provided the information: 

Of these, 95 (65%) had a retraction policy. Of journals with a retraction policy, 94% had a policy that allows the editors to retract articles without authors’ consent.

That second point is important, as some scientists seem to mistakenly believe that only authors can retract a paper.

Nearly half of the journals that responded were review journals, and almost three-quarters were in biomedical fields. Here are some details:

  • Among biomedical journal “families”, 23 of 38 (60.5%) had a retraction policy, relative to 5 of 17 (29.4%) of the journal families that were not about biomedicine.
  • 95 journals had a retraction policy; 89 (94%) allowed the editors to retract articles without all of the authors’ consent, while 50 (53%) allowed the editors to publish an expression of concern without the authors’ consent.
  • 48 (51%) of the journals with a retraction policy required retraction notices to say why the paper was being retracted, and 86 (91%) described the procedures for the retraction.
  • 49 of the journals (52%) had retraction policies that came from the publisher, while 29 (31%) came jointly from the Committee on Publication Ethics and the publisher. Six (6%) came from COPE alone, and the rest came from COPE and ICMJE, from the journal itself, from both the journal and COPE, or from the journal jointly with the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The authors conclude:

The most important finding of our study is that 3 times as many journals in our sample (65%) had a retraction policy compared to an earlier study in a similar group of journals (21%) [12]. A plausible explanation for this apparent increase in the percentage of journals with a retraction policy is that more editors and publishers have become aware of the importance of dealing with retractions, and they have developed policies or adopted ones provided by COPE or other organizations. This increase in retraction policies might also provide further support for the hypothesis that retractions have increased in the last decade because more journals have adopted retraction policies [8]. However, both of these claims are speculative, and further research, such as interviews with editors, is needed to understand the factors that influence the retraction rate and retraction policy development.

Several editors of review journals that did not have retraction policies indicated in their responses that they saw no need for a retraction policy because they only publish review articles and are therefore not faced with the issues related to the publication of original data, such as fabrication or falsification. While it is probably the case that review journals rarely encounter problems with articles that warrant retraction, they still might need to occasionally retract articles in which authors have plagiarized other publications. We recommend that journals that do not have a retraction policy consider developing or adopting one.

We do, too.

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One thought on “At least one-third of top science journals lack a retraction policy — a big improvement”

  1. As the pages of this blog have repeatedly shown, “policies”, like “guidelines”, are worthless in the absence of teeth to ensure they are strictly adhered to. What we need are rules with consequences.

    It should also be remembered that “Sorry, it’s not company policy” is the oldest excuse in the book, to cover non-customer-friendly practices.

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