Retraction in academic publishing

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

In academic publishing, a retraction is a mechanism by which a published paper in an academic journal is flagged for being seriously flawed to the extent that their results and conclusions can no longer be relied upon. Retracted articles are not removed from the published literature but marked as retracted. In some cases it may be necessary to remove an article from publication, such as when the article is clearly defamatory, violates personal privacy, is the subject of a court order, or might pose a serious health risk to the general public.[1]


A retraction may be initiated by the editors of a journal, or by the author(s) of the papers (or their institution). Retractions are typically accompanied by a retraction notice written by the editors or authors explaining the reason for the retraction. Such notices may also include a note from the authors with apologies for the previous error and/or expressions of gratitude to persons who disclosed the error to the author.[2] Retractions must not be confused with small corrections in published articles.

There have been numerous examples of retracted scientific publications. Retraction Watch provides updates on new retractions, and discusses general issues in relation to retractions.[3][4]


A 2011 paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics attempted to quantify retraction rates in PubMed over time to determine if the rate was increasing, even while taking into account the increased number of overall publications occurring each year.[5] The author found that the rate of increase in retractions was greater than the rate of increase in publications. Moreover, the author notes the following:

"It is particularly striking that the number of papers retracted for fraud increased more than sevenfold in the 6 years between 2004 and 2009. During the same period, the number of papers retracted for a scientific mistake did not even double..." (p. 251).[5]

Although the author suggests that his findings may indeed indicate a recent increase in scientific fraud, he also acknowledges other possibilities. For example, increased rates of fraud in recent years may simply indicate that journals are doing a better job of policing the scientific literature than they have in the past. Furthermore, because retractions occur for a very small percentage of overall publications (fewer than 1 in 1,000 articles[6][7]), a few scientists who are willing to commit large amounts of fraud can highly impact retraction rates. For example, the author points out that Jan Hendrik Schön fabricated results in 15 retracted papers in the dataset he reviewed, all of which were retracted in 2002 and 2003, "so he alone was responsible for 56% of papers retracted for fraud in 2002—2003" (p 252).[5]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, academia had seen a quick increase in fast-track peer-review articles dealing with SARS-CoV-2 problems.[8] As a result, a number of papers have been retracted made "Retraction Tsunami"[9] due to quality and/or data issues, leading many experts to ponder not just the quality of peer review but also standards of retraction practices.[10]

Retracted studies may continue to be cited. This may happen in cases where scholars are unaware of the retraction, in particular when the retraction occurs long after the original publication.[11]

The number of journal articles being retracted had risen from about 1,600 in 2013 to 10,000 in 2023. Most of the retractions in 2023 were contributed by Hindawi journals.[12]

Alternative versions of retraction[edit]

Retraction with replacement[edit]

A low percentage of retracted papers can be due to unintentional error within the author(s) work. Rather than removing the entire article, retraction with replacement has been a new practice to help authors avoid being seen as dishonest for mistakes that were not purposefully done.[13] This method allows the author to fix their mistakes from the original paper, and submit an edited version to take the original paper’s place. The journal can decide to retract the original paper then upload the fixed version online, usually with a notice placed stating “Retraction and Replacement,” or “Correction,” on the article page. For example, JAMA will post the edited version with a retraction and replacement notice, along with a link to the original article, while Research Evaluation will use the term "correction" with a link posted on the updated article, referring to the old article.


Self-retraction is a request from an author and/or co-authors to retract its own work from being published. Self-retraction by an author is recommended because once it gets retracted from the journal, then it can affect the author(s) because investigations can begin which will have an effect the author's reputation. If one retracts their own work on their terms, it would show more integrity and honesty as they are owning up to their own mistakes,[14] just like the authors mentioned in The Wall Street Journal have done . Scientists at times have been asked to retract their work even though their work is exact and bold; the root cause of the problem should be looked into to avoid retractions.[14] A system to distinguish papers from "good" and "bad" would be beneficial to researchers. This system may save the reputation of scientists and researchers. Most researchers publish honest work and sometimes simple mistakes happen to be overlooked by the peer review process. Retraction should not be for simple spelling errors, but for inaccurate, skewed, and fraudulent data. For example, today new technologies are being developed in a culture of transparency to align the opportunity to record false claims.[14] Another solution is for researchers to use a term “self-citation” since citations look identical therefore they are classified in databases.[14] Recommending a same database to evaluate the researchers own work can help lessen retractions.

Notable retractions[edit]

Retraction for error[edit]

Retraction for fraud or misconduct[edit]

  • 2021 An article studying the open source community by Qiushi Wu and Kangjie Lu at the University of Minnesota was withdrawn after the Linux Foundation discovered that the researchers submitted patches for the Linux kernel with intentional bugs and without obtaining appropriate consent.[16][17]
  • 2020 On January 8, 2020, Russian journals retracted more than 800 articles after a large-scale investigation conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) following claims of unethical publications.[18]
  • 2018 On 11 April 2019, two articles on DNA damage by Abderrahmane Kaidi of the University of Bristol, one published in Science in 2010[19] and another in Nature in 2013,[20] were retracted following evidence of data fabrication.[21][22]
  • 2017 Five articles in the field of consumer behavior and marketing research, by Brian Wansink at Cornell University, came under scrutiny after peers pointed out inconsistencies in the data. Wansink had written a blog post about asking a graduate student to "salvage" conclusions. Cornell University launched an investigation, which determined in 2018 that Wansink had committed academic misconduct. Wansink resigned.[23][24][25] Wansink has since had 18 of his research papers retracted as similar issues were found in other publications.[26][27][28]
  • 2014 An article by Haruko Obokata et al. on STAP cells, a method of inducing a cell to become a stem cell, was proven to be falsified. Originally published in Nature, it was retracted later that year. It generated much controversy, and after an institutional investigation, one of the authors committed suicide.[29][30]
  • 2011 Eight journal articles authored by Duke University cancer researcher Anil Potti and others, which describe genomic signatures of cancer prognosis and predictors of response to cancer treatment, were retracted in 2011 and 2012. The retraction notices generally state that the results of the analyses described in the articles could not be reproduced. In November 2015, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found that Potti had engaged in research misconduct.[31]
  • 2010 A 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield proposing that the MMR vaccine might cause autism, which was responsible for the MMR vaccine controversy, was retracted because "the claims in the original paper that children were "consecutively referred" and that investigations were "approved" by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false."[32][33][34]
  • 2009 Numerous papers written by Scott Reuben from 1996 to 2009 were retracted after it was discovered he never actually conducted any of the trials he claimed to have run.
  • 2007 Retraction of several articles written by social psychologist Jennifer Lerner and colleagues from journals including Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and Biological Psychiatry.[35]
  • 2006 Retraction of Patient-specific embryonic stem cells derived from human SCNT blastocysts, written by Hwang Woo-Suk. Fabrications in the field of stem cell research led to 'indictment on embezzlement and bioethics law violations linked to faked stem cell research'.
  • 2003 Numerous articles with questionable data from physicist Jan Hendrik Schön were retracted from many journals, including both Science and Nature.
  • 2002 Retraction of announced discovery of elements 116 and 118. See Livermorium, Victor Ninov.
  • 1991 Thereza Imanishi-Kari, who worked with David Baltimore, published a 1986 article in the journal Cell on immunology, which showed unexpected results on how the immune system rearranges its genes to produce antibodies against antigens it encounters for the first time. Margot O'Toole, a postdoctoral researcher for Imanishi-Kari, claimed that she could not reproduce Imanishi-Kari's results and alleged that Imanishi-Kari had fabricated the data. After a major investigation, the paper was retracted when the National Institutes of Health concluded that data in the 1986 Imanishi-Kari article had been falsified. Five years later, in 1996, an expert panel appointed by the federal government found no evidence of scientific fraud and cleared Imanishi-Kari of misconduct, although the paper was not reinstated.[36]
  • 1982 John Darsee. Fabricated results in the Cardiac Research Laboratory of Eugene Braunwald at Harvard in the early 1980s. Initially thought to be brilliant by his boss. He was caught out by fellow researchers in the same laboratory.

Retraction for ethical violations[edit]

  • 2019 An article by Wendy Rogers (Macquarie University, Australia) and colleagues on BMJ Open called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners.[37] Wendy Rogers said the journals, researchers and clinicians who used these studies were complicit in these methods of organ trafficking. According to the study, the transplant research community has failed to live up to the ethical standards for using organs from death row inmates that are still being published. These widespread unethical violations in research will cause many unpredictable consequences for science.[38] In 2019, PLOS ONE also retracted 21 articles related to this incident.[39][40]
  • 2017 The journal Liver International retracted a Chinese study of liver transplantation because 564 livers grafted in the course of the research over 4 years could not be traced. The experts pointed out that it was implausible a hospital could have so many freely donated livers for transplantation, given the small number of donors in China at the time.[41]

Retraction over data provenance[edit]

  • 2020 On 22 May 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, an article was published in The Lancet which claimed to find evidence, based on a database of 96032 COVID-19 patients, that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine increase the chance of patients dying in hospital as well as the chance of ventricular arrhythmia.[42] Medical researchers and newspapers expressed suspicions about the validity of the data, provided by Surgisphere, which is founded by one of the authors of the study.[43] The article was formally retracted by 4 June 2020, on request by the lead author Mandeep Mehra.[44][42]

Retraction over public relations issues[edit]

See also[edit]


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  42. ^ a b Mehra, Mandeep R.; Desai, Sapan S.; Ruschitzka, Frank; Patel, Amit N (2020-05-22). "RETRACTED: Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis". The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31180-6. PMC 7255293. PMID 32450107. Archived from the original on 2020-06-07. Retrieved 2020-06-07. (Retracted, see doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31324-6, PMID 32511943,  Retraction Watch)
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Further reading[edit]