Russian publishing watchdog decries ‘retraction misuse’ following ban on ‘LGBT propaganda’

In the wake of a new law that bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations and (or) preferences” in Russia, some journals have retracted articles they fear could attract state attention, a move a publishing watchdog in the country has called “self-censorship.” 

As we reported in December, the Russian philosophy journal Logos retracted an article about lesbian fashion magazines for being “in violation of standards,” citing the new ban.

More journals have followed suit, according to the Russian Council on Publication Ethics, which issued a statement decrying “retraction misuse” by journals in response to the law, though it also expressed concern for the safety of journal staff and authors if they ignored it. The statement began: 

After 24 February 2022, a situation has arisen in Russia in which legal requirements and legal enforcement practices may directly conflict with the norms of academic freedom and scientific integrity.

In these circumstances, some Russian journals take the path of self-censorship by retracting articles whose publication (in the view of the editors) could lead to sanctions from the state. A new wave of such retractions is associated with the effect of Federal Law of Russia No. 217471-8 «On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information’ and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (as regards the prohibition of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships and/or preferences)». The Council points out to the fact that scientific research may not be equated with propaganda and is bound to state that in these cases the retraction mechanism is used without convincing grounds. The purpose of retraction of scientific articles is to correct errors and reduce scientometric biases.

Part of the statement appeared to directly reference the reason Logos offered for the retraction: 

It is important to understand that what the editorial boards occasionally call retraction is not retraction. Self-invented wording («Publication of research in violation of the standards», etc.) in fact turns out to be self-censorship. Such and similar actions (deletion, concealment, withdrawal of publications) are irrelevant to maintaining the ethics of scientific publications, the integrity of scientific knowledge, and good scientific practice.

The retracted paper, “Looking good: The lesbian gaze and fashion imagery,” appeared  in a 2022 special issue of Logos on feminism and visuality. The article, by Reina Lewis of the London College of Fashion, was a Russian translation of an article Lewis published in the Feminist Review in 1997. Lewis told us she didn’t know the paper had been retracted until we emailed her.  

The translation still appears online, but the issue in which the paper appeared is no longer available on the journal’s website. An entry on the Russian database eLIBRARY indicates the article was retracted “due to the presence of signs that fall under the scope” of the new law, which carries significant fines for violations, according to Reuters.  

The statement from the Russian Council on Publication Ethics continued: 

We believe that the safety of journal staff and authors and the continuation of scientific publications in the current circumstances are important, so we understand their compelled action, to the very desire to avoid reprisals, but not to the distortion of ethical principles and publication procedures.

In terms of international practice, in similar circumstances, publishers may be advised to refer to the well-known legal formula of Gustav Radbruch.

The Council on Publications Ethics, together with foreign partners, is currently looking for options allowing Russian journals to resolve this difficult situation with dignity, and asks that no precipitate decisions be taken.

We ask everyone to consider that Article 54 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that the law establishing or aggravating liability has no retroactive force. No one can be held liable for an act which was not an offence at the time it was committed.

The Council deeply regrets this situation and is always ready to provide the necessary support.

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.

8 thoughts on “Russian publishing watchdog decries ‘retraction misuse’ following ban on ‘LGBT propaganda’”

  1. Given the fact that certain critics of the current Russian government have been known to “commit suicide”, die under mysterious circumstances, or otherwise disappear from the map, I sympathize with those who have little choice but to continue to work within the current climate of fear.

  2. I think it would be interesting for others to investigate why some old Russian scientific journals are now published at Springer site without any Editorial board.
    For example, https://www.springer.com/journal/11449
    https://www.springer.com/journal/11455
    https://www.springer.com/journal/11454
    https://www.springer.com/journal/11453
    https://www.springer.com/journal/11451
    These journals have been translated from Russian. Mostly, the latest published articles at Springer site are not related to the original Russian journals and were taken from other Russian untranslated journals.

    1. If I understand correctly, the English-language publishing house Pleiades Publishing cannot now directly contact the Russian Ioffe Institute (https://www.pleiades.online/ru/publishers/news/70/). Therefore, the Ioffe Institute announced that it will now independently produce English-language versions of journals (https://journals.ioffe.ru/). Pleiades Publishing states that authors of Russian-language papers can still send articles directly to them for translation publication (https://www.pleiades.online/ru/publishers/news/71/).

      Also, Pleiades Publishing is not obligated to publish only translated versions of certain journals from the Ioffe Institute. They can publish original research too.

      The publication of translated papers is a very debatable topic. As I understand it, if there is a link to the original paper and the consent of the authors, you can publish a translation of paper from any journal.

      1. At the present time, Pleiades Publishing and Springer site supposes that these journals have no scientific editorial board. In my opinion, current ideas about the scientific journal suggest the existence of the editorial board.
        Moreover, the authors of the latest translated articles from another Russian journals make duplicated publications. As the authors signed aggrements for the publication with another journals.

        1. Did they publish the same paper several times in the same or in different languages?
          Originally the editorial board of the American magazine were the same as editorial board of the Russian magazine. After the conflict, the PP suspended them.
          Also Ioffe Institute publishes English version of papers by themselves with the same journal title as by PP/Springer. E.g. https://journals.ioffe.ru/articles/viewPDF/52523
          I agree it looks not good.

          1. Springer claims at its site: “Translations of articles without proper permission or notification and resubmission of previously published Open Access articles are considered duplications.”

            Thus, the latest translated articles should be considered as duplications since the original Russian journals restrict the wrights of the authors. The journals also claim support for COPE.

      2. I have to correct myself. The brand for English-language journals belongs to the Russian Institute. So it is strange that an American publisher acts too independently.
        Maybe someone will ask colleagues from Dissernet. Perhaps they know more about this situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.