Since its launch Retraction Watch has done much to highlight the value of research integrity and publishing standards. Discussing the recent acquisition by Crossref of Retraction Watch’s database of retracted articles, Ivan Oransky and Rachael Lammey highlight the value of this data and the difficulties of making it openly and sustainably accessible.
By convention and, some would say, by necessity, publishers are considered the stewards of the scientific record. A key part of the value they say they provide is the production, curation, and dissemination of metadata so that the literature can be discovered, read, shared, and tracked.
We are massive fans of Retraction Watch and the important work that they do to highlight retractions, dodgy work and hijacked journals. The Crossref’s acquisition of the Retraction Watch database is fantastic news and very exciting. We are looking forward to the next steps and how the database will be used to leverage the improved integrity of the scientific record.
Studies have demonstrated that central databases that should include information about all retracted papers covered by a particular set of criteria are missing many, and sometimes most, retractions. The differences between databases are stark: Some contain only a third or a quarter of the at least 50,000 known retractions in the literature. Whether intentionally or simply not as a matter of priority, publishers are not transmitting the metadata they should be.
That means researchers who are trying to avoid citing or relying on retracted papers are stuck. While they could check each reference by hand on publishers’ sites, studies have shown that not even that will catch all retractions. It also means that the full impact of shoddy science – at least the work that is retracted, a fraction of what should be – will not be understood, nor available for study by other scholars.