When — and how — should journals flag papers that don’t quite meet retraction criteria?

Readers of Retraction Watch will be no strangers to the practice of issuing Expressions of Concern — editorial notices from journals that indicate a paper’s results may not be valid. While a good idea in theory — so readers can be aware of potential issues while an investigation is underway — in practice, it’s a somewhat flawed system. As we (and others before us) have shown, so-called EOCs can linger indefinitely, leaving researchers unsure how to interpret a flagged paper.

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) agrees that the system has room for improvement. Although COPE has included advice on when to issue EOCs within its retraction guidelines, it has allotted time in the next COPE Forum (Feb 26) to discuss the topic. Some questions it’s considering:

-What are the barriers to using [EOCs]?

-Are the situations described in the Retraction Guidelines the only ones in which an expression of concern can be used? In particular, may the reception of the article or disagreement about authorship justify an expression of concern?

-If an expression of concern is removed because the concerns were not valid, should the original text remain available and how should the removal be indicated? Using the term “retraction” might cause confusion.

-If the article is later retracted, should the expression of concern remain or be removed?

To read more, you can check out the COPE discussion topic. To share your thoughts with COPE, you can leave comments.

To review a sample of EOCs, you can search by type of notice in our database, which has currently cataloged more than 200 such notices.

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