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Why Retractions Occurs

Defining Retraction

Research papers are bound to undergo detailed scrutiny which is carried out by peer reviewers prior to the research paper being approved for publication. In spite of these detailed scrutiny, there are times when mistakes are found in the paper post publication. In case the mistakes are observed to be very minor where mistakes would pertain to improper email id of the author or the name of the author requires correction, it is possible to issue a notice of erratum. But, in the event that the mistakes are so severe that it jeopardizes the reliability and authenticity of the paper, it warrants the need for a retraction. Retraction is simply a technique to alert the reader about the invalid or dubious credibility of the research. It is a part and parcel of the process of publication and there have been several instances where even leading journals have had to retract research papers. However, it is imperative that the author of the research paper understands that the objective of the retraction was not an act of penalty against the author for their errors but rather to rectify research information and to preserve the integrity of science.

Common Reasons for Retraction

Research papers have to be retract mainly when there are severe mistakes which cannot be possibly rectified by a letter of concern or a notice of erratum. As per the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), editors of journals (leading or low-tier) should think about retracting a research paper in case;

  • the journal has clear proof which indicates that the findings of a particular paper is unreliable. This could be due to an outcome of misconduct (fabrication of data) or inadvertent error (experimental or mistakes in calculation).
  • the findings as mentioned in the research paper has been published in the past by some other author in some other journal and there is lack of appropriate justification, permission or cross-referencing (cases of redundant publication).
  • there is clear evidence of research activity that was unethical.
  • there is clear evidence of plagiarism.

However, these are not the only reasons why retractions occur. There are times when journals do not offer a clear motive for the retraction. This can be attributed to their fear of loss of reputation as there is a possibility that readers raise doubts on the veracity of their peer review process. Setting up of a ‘transparency index’ for journals have been recommended which helps to rank journals on factors such as clarity in notices for retraction. A transparency index will help researchers to clearly understand the basis on which a retraction of their research paper occurred. Nonetheless, the problem continues to remain in instances where authors are known to retract their papers for reasons best known to them.

Impact of Retraction on Researchers

If you think a research paper being retracted is no big deal, then you are highly mistaken. Retraction of a research paper can have severe ramifications and can impact the career of the researcher. As per a working paper that was floated by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was indicated that principal researchers whose papers were retracted experienced an average reduction of 10% in citations of any other paper they had published in the past. This is a phenomenon that is commonly known as citation penalty. However, the penalty is greater if the retraction occurred on the basis of misconduct rather than an inadvertent error.

On the other hand, the scientific community is known to be very forgiving in the event researchers admit to misconduct and willful manipulation of facts. According to a report, it was revealed that researchers did not face any citation penalty if they owned up their mistakes and retract their papers of their own accord as compared to the journal being compelled to take this drastic action.

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