Retractions could mean fewer submissions for journals, says new analysis

Thomas Gaston

What affects the number of submissions a journal receives? A new study in Learned Publishing, led by staff at Wiley, aimed to find out — and the results, based in part on our database, suggest that retractions may correlate with submission numbers. We asked corresponding author Thomas Gaston to answer a few questions about the paper.

Tell us about your study — why and how you did it, and what you found.

Publishers play an important role in advancing scholarly research by creating and maintaining the formal “version of record” in scholarly journals. Safeguarding the integrity of the scientific record is something Wiley takes seriously, with errors in the literature addressed through corrections, expressions of concern, retractions or withdrawals. There are many reasons for retractions—and we thoroughly investigate all questions raised about research integrity. We were interested in understanding how peer review practices impact submission numbers, with retraction rates used as a metric.

We conducted the study to better understand author choices and what influences them. Our study in Learned Publishing identifies factors that affect journal submissions. Previous research used surveys to quantify author preferences, which captures what authors might do in a hypothetical situation. We looked at 10 years of submission data from more than 1,000 Wiley journals to understand submission patterns to see if they correlated with possible factors such as impact factor, acceptance rate, or retraction trends.

Using the Retraction Watch database, we gathered data on the number of retractions published in each Wiley journal annually during the ten-year period. The research identifies if a retraction had been published and whether there were changes in submission numbers in the subsequent year. The same process was used to compare Impact Factor, acceptance rates and cycle times, and then an appropriate statistical test was applied. 

Our results show a statistically significant correlation between both Impact Factor and Retractions with submission numbers. A change in Impact Factor (absolute number or relative subject category ranking) correlated with a respective change in submission numbers in the following year. Publishing a retraction(s) correlates to a decline in submission numbers in the subsequent year. As curators of the literature Wiley aims to remove the stigma associated with retractions by helping researchers understand that eliminating any errors in the scientific record is not a bad thing. Maintaining accuracy in the version of record is just one-way Wiley adds value as a publisher.

You write that one of your main findings — “that retractions correlate with lower submissions” — is “less expected” than the others. What you think explains this finding, and why was it less expected?

We hadn’t found previous research that indicated retractions may deter authors from submitting to a journal and therefore the correlation between retractions and submissions was less expected. If retractions are not deterring authors directly, then the reason for that correlation is something to further explore. Wiley strives to keep on top of trends so we can better advise researchers and our publishing partners on best practices in publishing.

As you note, a previous study found a correlation between retraction rates and Impact Factor. How do you relate your findings to that earlier finding?

Fang and Casadevall found that journals with higher Impact Factors publish more retractions. Our study treated Impact Factor and retractions as independent factors, but this earlier finding demonstrates a more complex interrelationship between Impact Factor, retractions and submissions exists. It may not be possible to truly isolate retractions from other factors. I think this highlights that editorial strategies that focus too narrowly on a single factor are unlikely to work in the long-term. There are many factors that influence where an author chooses to submit that are not quantifiable.

You write that “We do not believe that the correlation between retractions and submission numbers should be considered an incentive for editors or publishers to not publish retractions.” Why?

This finding should not influence editors and publishers to withhold retractions. It would be unethical to do this, and we wanted to be clear that interpreting our findings in that manner is incorrect. Our hypothesis is not that retractions are deterring authors, but that retractions are a quantifiable indicator of negative peer review reputation, which may deter authors. There are many means contributing to negative peer review reputation and withholding retractions would be addressing the symptom rather than the cause.

Wiley’s responsibility is to maintain accuracy of scientific literature and that means publishing retractions where appropriate. We continue to work with editors and authors on research integrity best practices, such as continual improvement to peer review standards, through Wiley’s Better Peer Review initiative.

Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at team@retractionwatch.com.

4 thoughts on “Retractions could mean fewer submissions for journals, says new analysis”

  1. Hello Ivan,
    how about a “where are they now” page?
    5000 retractions – what has happened to these researchers? Was the benefit of an early (albeit) false publication enough to keep them in the game? You might dedicate a thread to this, and researchers from around the world could help you to collate data as to where these researcher are now and an indication regarding their current employment.

    What’s the bet up front? Top Tier institutes likely purge themselves of poorly behaved researchers, while Lower Tier institutes likely just try to stifle the bad press, retain the troubled employee, and keep going. What’s your guess – or it this already known?

  2. With all the retractions noted, and as-yet undone retractions that should be done, fewer publications of higher quality would be welcome.

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