How you can help improve the visibility of retractions: Introducing NISO’s Recommended Practice for Communication of Retractions, Removals, and Expressions of Concern (CREC)

Maria Zalm

Despite their retracted status, problematic articles that present unreliable information, critical errors, non-reproducible results, or fabricated data frequently continue to be propagated in the scholarly literature through continued citations. There are good reasons for citing retracted work, for example to critically discuss the information presented in the article, or in studies pertaining to the field of research integrity. 

However, in the majority of cases, retracted publications continue to be cited as if the retraction had not occurred. In studies of the citation of retracted publications, only between 5% and 20% of citations acknowledge the retracted status of the article or are critical of the article. A lack of awareness of the retracted status of a publication may be a significant contributing factor to the perpetuation of citing the article after the retraction event occurred. 

Previous research has found that the fact an article has been retracted is often inconsistently displayed across different resources, creating challenges for authors seeking out articles to refine their research questions, develop their approaches, or contextualize their findings. The continued citation and inclusion of retracted work without appropriate discussion or acknowledgement of its retracted status in subsequent studies, poses a direct threat to the reliability of the published literature and the overall trust in research and scholarship.

Caitlin Bakker

So how do we better disseminate the editorial status of retracted work? With the support of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a group of 26 mission-driven cross-industry representatives have been working for the past two years to propose recommended practice guidelines for metadata transfer and display of published work that has been retracted, removed, or flagged with an expression of concern (EOC). The final product of this work, the NISO Recommended Practice for Communication of Retractions, Removals, and Expressions of Concern (CREC), was published on June 27, 2024. 

The CREC Working Group included representatives from publishers, aggregators, web vendors, libraries, universities and others. Together, we developed a recommended practice that describes the essential data elements required to effectively communicate retractions, removals and EOCs with readers and other end users. Furthermore, the recommended practice lays out the parties involved in and responsible for the communications of these editorial decisions. Of note, the CREC guidelines do not advise editors on issuing editorial decisions, rather these guidelines are intended to ensure information regarding retractions, removals, and EOCs are disseminated effectively, transparently, and rapidly, so that the updated editorial status of the work is imminently clear.       

To combat continued inappropriate citations of retracted articles, the NISO CREC recommended practice presents a number of items that ensure post-publication editorial action is easily identified by both human and machine readers, through publisher platforms as well as other aggregators. The recommendations include guidance on the required meta-data elements, their transfer, and display. Furthermore, the guidelines identify the parties responsible for each step of the correct dissemination of the information regarding the updated editorial status of the affected article. 

In addition, the recommendations discuss more complicated situations, such as simultaneous, large-scale retraction cases linked to manipulation of the publication process, editorial action taken on the pre-versions of record, guidance for the dissemination of retractions, removals, and EOCs following change of publishers, and recommendations for the sharing of this information involving materials published in languages other than English. 

Here’s where we need the community’s help.

While the NISO CREC recommended practice is now available, its effectiveness largely depends on its adoption. As such, the members of the NISO CREC working group encourage publishers, repositories, abstracting and indexing providers, researchers, journalists, and readers to share the CREC guidelines with their respective networks to increase awareness and encourage their adoption into the wider industry. 

Last but not least, the CREC working group anticipates that the publishing industry will change over time, and we also acknowledge that there were topics such as a proposed taxonomy and suppression of HTML that we were unable to fully resolve in the current version of the CREC guidelines. To ensure that the recommended practice remains relevant and current in this evolving landscape, a CREC standing committee will be formed to continue to monitor the changes and needs in the industry, and to issue updates to the recommended practice when relevant.

Caitlin Bakker, Discovery Technologies Librarian at the University of Regina, and Maria Zalm, Senior Editor for Publication Ethics at the Public Library of Science (PLOS), were the co-chair and a member, respectively, of the NISO CREC Working Group. (Retraction Watch co-founder Ivan Oransky was not a co-author of this post but was also a member of the Working Group.)

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