Retractions rise to nearly 700 in fiscal year 2015 (and psst, this is our 3,000th post)

pubmedThis is our 3,000th post, dear reader, and to celebrate we’re presenting you with a wealth of retraction data from fiscal year 2015, courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The biggest take-home: The number of retracted articles jumped from 500 in Fiscal Year 2014 to 684 in Fiscal Year 2015 — an increase of 37%. But in the same time period, the number of citations indexed for MEDLINE — about 806,000 — has only increased by 5%.

To illustrate, we’ve presented the increase in a handy graphic:

(Note that these figures stem from fiscal years, not calendar years; FY 2015 extends from October 1, 2014 through September 30, 2015.)

We have estimated that roughly 500-600 papers are retracted per year — not all retractions will be indexed in MEDLINE, which focuses on the biomedical sciences — so we’re not sure if last year is an outlier or a sign of a new plateau. We did a rough glance at the list of retractions for FY 2015, and no obvious explanation for the increase — such as a ton of retractions for one author or from one journal — jumped out at us. But we’ll be continuing to pore over the data to see if any pattern emerges. (Retraction Watch readers will likely recall that the number of retractions grew ten-fold from 2001 to 2010.)

We also saw a significant increase — by nearly 30% — in the number of errata listed in FY 2015, versus FY 2014.

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9 thoughts on “Retractions rise to nearly 700 in fiscal year 2015 (and psst, this is our 3,000th post)”

  1. Congratulations, though perhaps it should be commiserations for having an increased workload, where you cannot simply tick a ‘doing the right thing’ box each time!

    I wonder if there is any link to the increased retractions and corrections to use of PubPeer? there would not be many points on the graph, as PubPeer is relatively new, but hey, we only need 2 for a perfect straight line and brilliant stats that fit out model!

    1. I presented an exploratory study on this issue at last year’s WCRI held in Rio, Essentially, I entered the search term ‘expression of concern’ (EoC) in the PubMed database and received a total of 275 hits (as of May 10th, 2015). Of those 123 hits were of some type of expression of concern. In my analysis I only included ‘editorial’ expressions of concern, that is, only those entries with headings, such as ‘expression of concern’ and ‘statement of concern’ that were published by the journal’s editor and those parameters yielded a total of 95. Of course, there may have been EoCs that were not so labeled. For example, a journal may opt to publish a letter in which a reader may be detail some concern, etc.

  2. The increase in the number of retractions and errata could be considered a sign of heightened awareness and prompt action on the part of journals. It would be interesting to study in more depth whether there are any notable trends in the number of retractions per retracting-journal.

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