I Take That Back
February-2017 (by Jana Rieger)

It’s the thing that every scientist hopes is never associated with their name – a journal article retraction. In A Course in Deception, Dr. Mackenzie Smith gets hauled into her department chair’s office. There’s been a complaint, and Mackenzie may be facing this very thing. But why? What could she have done to deserve this? Read on…

In an article published in Nature in 2011, Richard Van Noorden explored “The Trouble with Retractions”. In the article, he posed some very thought-provoking issues related to article retractions, including the rise in the number of article retractions over the past decade, the influence of technology on detecting instances of fraud or plagiarism, the transparency (or lack thereof) of journals in reporting why articles have been retracted, and the phenomenon of withdrawn papers continuing to be cited.

Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces of information in the publication is a synopsis of the reasons for retractions. According to Van Noorden, 44% of retractions are related to scientific misconduct. The breakdown of numbers goes something like this: 17% are related to self-plagiarism, 16% to plagiarism, and 11% to fabrication or falsification of data. The remaining 56% are related to other ‘more noble’ reasons for retractions, including honest errors (28%), irreproducible results (11%), and a category labelled as ‘other’ (17%).

It will be interesting to watch what happens over the course of the next decade as we become savvier at detecting fraud and develop what Van Noorden referred to as a better vocabulary around retractions. In addition, it seems that common guidelines in policies and practices amongst journals for handling retractions also will be an important element in providing clarity for consumers of research.

To read Van Noorden’s article, go to: 26 | NATURE | VOL 478 | 6 OCTOBER 2011

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