Authors who cited flawed work often fail to warn readers, study finds
Alison Avenell spent years collecting evidence that Yoshihiro Sato, a now-deceased nutritional researcher in Japan, was among the most prolific fraudsters known to science. After journals investigated the findings by Avenell, a clinical nutritionist at the University of Aberdeen, and her colleagues, they retracted more than two dozen papers Sato had co-authored. Many had reported findings from clinical trials that could have led physicians to incorrectly treat patients suffering from osteoporosis and other disorders.
The continued citation of retracted papers is a significant problem. The practice can do real damage – especially when they are included in systemic reviews. Institutions, funding bodies and learned societies have a key role to play. Your policies, professional development and guidance material must urge researchers away from the practice. Publishers must also clearly indicate that an item has been retracted. We have included links to seven related items.
Avenell noticed many journal articles that cited one or more of the 27 retracted papers did not warn readers that they referenced tainted work. Worse, she and colleagues report in a recently published study, 88 of the articles that cited the retracted papers were systematic reviews and clinical guidelines—potentially influential publications that often help guide medical treatments. Avenell wondered: Would the authors and editors of these papers take action if alerted to the retractions of Sato’s work?
For the most part, she found, the answer was no.
Her team contacted the authors of 86 of the citing papers—and sometimes the editors, too. After a year, however, journals had posted notices or letters for just eight of those papers informing readers that they cited retracted work, the researchers reported in late May in Accountability in Research. In five of those cases the announcement wasn’t linked to the paper, leaving readers in the dark. (A ninth review was itself retracted.)