Reporting of Article Retractions in Bibliographic Databases and Online Journals

By Wright, Kath; McDaid, Catriona | Journal of the Medical Library Association, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Reporting of Article Retractions in Bibliographic Databases and Online Journals


Wright, Kath, McDaid, Catriona, Journal of the Medical Library Association


INTRODUCTION

Retraction of journal papers containing falsified data plays a central role in "correcting" the scientific record. Of 395 articles retracted between 1982 and 2002, Nath et al. classified 62% as retracted as a result of mistake, 27% because of deliberate falsification or fabrication of data, and 11% without a clear reason for retraction [I]. There is evidence that retracted papers continue to be cited without reference to the retraction: Budd et al. found that 235 retracted articles were cited 2,034 times after retraction notices. Examination of 299 of these citations showed that only 19 referred to the retraction [2]. Similarly, Neale et al.'s analysis of 102 articles from PubMed snowed that many of these papers were subsequently cited by other researchers who were unaware that the papers had been affected by scientific misconduct [3]. Limitations in the processes for recording retractions have been noted elsewhere, and the responsibilities of authors, journal editors, and research institutions have been highlighted [4, 5].

Following the Poehlman case in 2005, where ten articles based on fabricated data by that author were retracted, Sox and Rennie identified several opportunities for publishers to prevent citation of retracted papers [5]. These included journal editors checking the reference lists of submitted manuscripts on the National Library of Medicine website, retraction notices being linked to retracted articles on journal websites, retraction notices being prominently displayed in electronic journals, and free access to the full text of retraction notices being facilitated.

While undertaking a systematic review on postsurgery analgesia [6], the authors realized that several of the papers identified for possible inclusion were by Scott S. Reuben, who was at that point being investigated for producing papers based on falsified data [7]. Twenty-one papers or abstracts authored by Reuben were under question at that time, and there was considerable publicity, while official retractions began to be made by journals. Although the presence of this publicity made it easy to weed out those articles from the systematic review, the situation offered an opportunity to conduct a case study to investigate whether databases and journals record notices of article retractions in a way that ensures they can be easily identified, even in the absence of such public discussion.

METHOD

The study had two components: (1) to investigate whether articles by Reuben that had definitely been retracted at the time of this study were clearly identified as retracted in MEDLINE, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), the three databases considered the most important to search to identify reports of randomized controlled trials [8] and (2) to investigate whether journals that had retracted the papers displayed this information clearly and prominently.

Recording of retracted articles on bibliographic databases

The retraction notices of papers authored by Reuben first began to be published in March 2009, and the research in this study was undertaken in August 2009, by which time a substantial number of papers had been retracted. This allowed a reasonable period for the articles to have been annotated as retracted in the databases. Using a list of twenty-one articles that were under question [9] as a starting point, retraction notices were searched for to confirm that eighteen articles had definitely been retracted by that time (i.e., a notice of retraction in the journal definitely published before August 30).

MEDLINE (August Week 4 MEDLEvJE), EMBASE (OvidSP interface; Week 35), and CENTRAL (30 August 2009) were searched for articles by Reuben. Initial searches were for Reuben as author, as he was first author on all the papers that had been retracted. To allow for differences in how retractions are noted on EMBASE, additional searches of this database were carried out using keywords from the original article title or the full journal title. …

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