Retractions take too long, carry too much of a stigma, and often provide too little information about what went wrong. Many people agree there’s a problem, but often can’t concur on how to address it. In one attempt, a group of experts — including our co-founder Ivan Oransky — convened at Stanford University in December 2016 to discuss better ways to address problems in the scientific record. Specifically, they explored which formats journals should adopt when publishing article amendments — such as corrections or retractions. Although the group didn’t come to a unanimous consensus (what group does?), workshop leader Daniele Fanelli (now at the London School of Economics) and two co-authors (John Ioannidis and Steven Goodman at Stanford) published a new proposal for how to classify different types of retractions. We spoke to Fanelli about the new “taxonomy,” and why not everyone is on board.
Retraction Watch: What do you think are the biggest issues in how the publishing industry deals with article amendments?
Daniele Fanelli: The issues are fundamentally three, and they are closely interconnected. First, the formats of amendment issued by most journals are too few, often consisting of only two types: “corrections” and “retractions.” Second, the information conveyed by these amendments is very limited. Not only, as RW has highlighted many times in the past, editors are often reluctant to accurately portray the causes underlying an amendment, but more generally I think that the format of a short notice of correction or retraction often impedes effective communication of the nature of errors that can have important repercussions for a broader literature. Thirdly, scientists have little incentive to “do the right thing” and promptly amend any scientific or ethical flaws in their work. Without an active participation of authors, amendments are rarer and harder to produce than we would like. To be fair, much progress has been made on all these fronts, but more and more concerted innovation is needed.