Retraction of published research can reduce the dissemination of incorrect or misleading information, but concerns have been raised about the clarity and rigor of the retraction process. Failure to clearly and consistently retract research has several risks, for example discredited or erroneous research may inform health research studies (e.g. clinical trials), policies and practices, potentially rendering these unreliable.
To investigate consistency and clarity of research retraction, based on a case study of retracted Covid-19 research.
A cross-sectional study of retracted Covid-19 articles reporting empirical research findings, based on searches of Medline, Embase and Scopus on 10th July and 19th December 2020.
The inclusion of retracted work in the scholarly record is a significant concern. When the research is dodgy, it can be a source of risk (e.g. when it impacts clinical care). Journals don’t always do a good job in the way they report retractions. The Retraction Watch database is a great tool. We have included links to 23 related items.
We included 46 retracted Covid-19 articles. The number eligible for inclusion nearly doubled, from 26 to 46, in five months. Most articles (67%) were retracted from scientific journals and the remainder from preprint servers. Key findings: (1) reasons for retraction were not reported in 33% (15/46) of cases; (2) time from publication to retraction could not be determined in 43% (20/46) of cases; (3) More than half (59%) of retracted Covid-19 articles (27/46) remained available as original unmarked electronic documents after retraction (33% as full text and 26% as an abstract only). Sources of articles post-retraction were preprint servers, ResearchGate and, less commonly, websites including PubMed Central and the World Health Organization. A retracted journal article which controversially claimed a link between 5G technology and Covid-19 remains available in its original full text from at least 60 different websites.
The retraction process is inconsistent and often ambiguous, with more than half of retracted Covid-19 research articles remaining available, unmarked, from a wide range of online sources. There is an urgent need to improve guidance on the retraction process and to extend this to cover preprint servers. We provide structured recommendations to address these concerns and to reduce the risks that arise when retracted research is inappropriately cited.
Frampton, G., Woods, L., Scott, D.A. (2021) Inconsistent and incomplete retraction of published research: A cross-sectional study on Covid-19 retractions and recommendations to mitigate risks for research, policy and practice. PLoS ONE 16(10): e0258935.
Publisher (Open Access): https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0258935