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Sometimes, through no fault of the researcher, a paper needs to be retracted. At the same time, it’s not uncommon to mistakenly cite a retracted paper. There are fairly strict guidelines around both of these scenarios, which we’ll be covering in this article.
The bottom line is that a retraction is bad news. For the research, for the publication, for researchers who cite the retracted article, and for anyone who relied on that research as a basis for treatment, their own research, or as a source for decision making.
Reasons for Paper Retraction
The two main reasons that papers are retracted have to do with intention. If a researcher’s intention was honest and ethical, but it’s realized that there was an error in the conclusion, for example, the researcher may decide to self-retract.
On the other hand, if it is found that the research was carried out, or conclusions drawn, in a fraudulent way, the editorial board of a publication may retract the article. Reasons for this type of paper retraction include fraudulent data, plagiarism, untrue authorship claims, multiple submissions of the article, or general misconduct related to professional codes of ethics.
Obviously, there is a big difference between the two. The academic world tends to be forgiving of a self-retraction, if the reason for the retraction was based on an honest mistake. However, if a paper is retracted due to fraud and/or other misleading ethical or moral reasons, the community is less forgiving, and it will probably affect future employment, funding and, of course, the reputation of the researcher.
Know more about Ethics in Scientific Research.
The good news is that if you self-retract your paper, you’re demonstrating that you can critically examine your work, are open to challenges, and learn from your mistakes. Perhaps most importantly, a self-retraction demonstrates your integrity. However, there are researchers who have abused the generosity of the academic world to forgive mistakes by initiating self-retractions to avoid misconduct allegations due to publishing research that is essentially fraudulent.
How to Retract a Paper from a Journal
Of course, retracting an article, especially when it’s due to an honest mistake, is an emotionally difficult undertaking. Because these things do happen, most journals have guidelines to help guide you through the process. Although they may differ, general expectations include the following:
First, inform any and all co-authors about the error or reason for retraction. Second, contact the journal editorial board or editor to explain the reason for your retraction. If the self-retraction guidelines aren’t easily found online, ask the editor about what their guidelines may be. If necessary, you may also want to seek legal advice.
Elsevier, when faced with an article retraction, follows these guidelines:
- A note of retraction, titled “Retraction: (article title)”, and signed by the authors and/or editor is published in an issue of the journal. In an electronic version of the journal, a link is made to the article.
- With the online version of the article, a screen preceding the article will appear, which contains the retraction note.
- The original paper or article remains unchanged, except for a “watermark” on any PDF copy, indicating that the article has been “retracted.”
- Any HTML version of the paper is removed.
Can I Cite Retracted Articles?
The short answer to this question is…Yes, but…
When you cite retracted articles, it needs to be legitimate, and very clearly noted in the text of your manuscript that the paper cited has been retracted. Some researchers find it helpful to cite retracted articles when they’re discussing general research on a topic, or to dismiss prior “knowledge” based on faulty research.
Some studies on the citing of retracted articles indicates that less than 5% of any citations of retracted research articles are identified as such. That can clearly be an issue for the researcher, leading to doubt of the validity of your own research and findings, so it’s to be avoided. Fortunately, there are new tools available to help you identify articles that may have been retracted so that you don’t mistakenly include them in your resource list.
If you do decide to cite a retracted article, you should cite the article, as well as the retraction note. And, in short, you should only cite a retracted article if you feel that it’s absolutely necessary to your own manuscript.
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