A retraction is a public statement made about an earlier statement that withdraws, cancels, refutes, or reverses the original statement or ceases and desists from publishing the original statement. The retraction may be initiated by the editors of a journal, or by the author(s) of the papers (or their institution). Retractions may or may not be accompanied by the author's further explanation as to how the original statement came to be made and/or what subsequent events, discoveries, or experiences led to the subsequent retraction. They are also in some cases accompanied by apologies for the previous error and/or expressions of gratitude to persons who disclosed the error to the author.
Retractions always negate the author's previous public support for the original statement. Like original statements, retractions are in some cases incorrect. Retractions share with original statements the attribute that they are in some cases made insincerely, in some cases for personal gain, and in others under duress.
The term retraction carries stronger connotation than the term correction. An alteration that changes the main point of the original statement is generally referred to as a retraction while an alteration that leaves the main point of a statement intact is usually referred to simply as a correction. Depending on the circumstances, either a retraction or correction is the appropriate remedy.
Retraction in science
In science, a retraction of a published scientific article indicates that the original article should not have been published and that its data and conclusions should not be used as part of the foundation for future research. The most common reasons for the retraction of articles are scientific misconduct including plagiarism, serious errors, and duplicate/concurrent publishing (self-plagiarism). The retraction may be initiated by the editors of the journal, or by the author(s) of the papers (or their institution). A lesser withdrawal of content than a full retraction may be labelled a correction. There have been numerous examples of retracted scientific publications. Retraction Watch provides updates on new retractions, and discusses general issues in relation to retractions.
A 2011 paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics attempted to quantify retraction rates in PubMed over time to determine if the rate was increasing, even while taking into account the increased number of overall publications occurring each year. The author found that the rate of increase in retractions was greater than the rate of increase in publications. Moreover, the author notes the following:
"It is particularly striking that the number of papers retracted for fraud increased more than sevenfold in the 6 years between 2004 and 2009. During the same period, the number of papers retracted for a scientific mistake did not even double..." (p. 251).
Although the author suggests that his findings may indeed indicate a recent increase in scientific fraud, he also acknowledges other possibilities. For example, increased rates of fraud in recent years may simply indicate that journals are doing a better job of policing the scientific literature than they have in the past. Furthermore, because retractions occur for a very small percentage of overall publications, a few scientists who are willing to commit large amounts of fraud can highly impact retraction rates. For example, the author points out that Jan Hendrik Schön fabricated results in 15 retracted papers in the dataset he reviewed, all of which were retracted in 2002 and 2003, "so he alone was responsible for 56% of papers retracted for fraud in 2002—2003” (p 252).
Retraction for error
- 2012 - Séralini affair - Article suggesting reported an increase in tumors among rats fed genetically modified corn and the herbicide RoundUp retracted due to criticism of experimental design. According to the editor of the journal, a "more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size".
- 2003 Retracted Science article on ecstasy. See Retracted article on neurotoxicity of ecstasy.
- Frank Cameron Jackson, supporter of the theory of epiphenomenalism, retracted his position due to an error in reasoning.
Retraction for fraud or misconduct
- 2014 An article by Haruko Obokata et al. on STAP cells, a method of inducing a cell to become a stem cell, was proven to be falsified. Originally published in Nature, it was retracted later that year. It generated much controversy, and after an institutional investigation, one of the authors committed suicide.
- 2011 Retraction: Enhanced Inhibition of Tumour Growth and Metastasis, and Induction of Antitumour Immunity by IL-2-IgG2b Fusion Protein. Scandinavian Journal of Immunology, 73: 266. by Budagian V, Nanni P, Lollini PL, Musiani P, Di Carlo E, Bulanova E, Paus R, Bulfone-Paus S. 2002*
- 2011 Anil Potti, formerly a cancer researcher at Duke University. Eight journal articles authored by Anil Potti and others that describe genomic signatures of cancer prognosis and predictors of response to cancer treatment were retracted in 2011 and 2012. The retraction notices generally state that the results of the analyses described in the articles could not be reproduced. In November 2015, the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found that Potti had engaged in research misconduct
- 2010 A 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield proposing that the MMR vaccine might cause autism, which was responsible for the MMR vaccine controversy, was retracted because "the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false."
- 2009 Numerous papers written by Scott Reuben from 1996 to 2009 were retracted after it was discovered he never actually conducted any of the trials he claimed to have run.
- 2007 Retraction of several articles written by social psychologist Jennifer Lerner and colleagues from journals including Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and Biological Psychiatry.
- 2006 Retraction of Patient-specific embryonic stem cells derived from human SCNT blastocysts. written by Hwang Woo-Suk. Fabrications in the field of stem cell research led to 'indictment on embezzlement and bioethics law violations linked to faked stem cell research'.
- 2003 Numerous articles with questionable data from physicist Jan Hendrik Schön from many journals including both Science and Nature are retracted.
- 2002 Retraction of announced discovery of elements 116 and 118. See Livermorium, Victor Ninov.
- 2002 Retracted article on dopaminergic neurotoxicity of MDMA
- 1991 Thereza Imanishi-Kari, who worked with David Baltimore, published a 1986 article in the journal Cell. Margot O'Toole, a postdoctoral researcher for Imanishi-Kari publicized Imanishi-Kari's scientific misconduct. After a major investigation, Baltimore was finally forced to issue a retraction in 1991 when the National Institutes of Health concluded that data in the 1986 Imanishi-Kari article had been falsified. In 1996, an expert panel appointed by the federal government cleared Imanishi-Kari of misconduct, finding no evidence of scientific fraud.
- 1982 John Darsee. Fabricated results in the Cardiac Research Laboratory of Eugene Braunwald at Harvard in the early 1980s. Initially thought to be brilliant by his boss. He was caught out by fellow researchers in the same laboratory.
Retraction over public relations issues
- 2016 On March 4, 2016, an article in PLOS ONE about the functioning of the human hand was retracted due to outrage on social media over a reference to "Creator" inside the paper (#CreatorGate).
- 1896 Jose Rizal was said to have issued a letter of retraction regarding his novels and other published articles against the Roman Catholic Church, see José Rizal: Retraction controversy.
- Kleinert, Sabine (2009). "COPE's retraction guidelines". The Lancet. 374 (9705): 1876–7. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(09)62074-2. PMID 19962558.
- The retraction war - Scientists seek demigod status, journals want blockbuster results, and retractions are on the rise (December 2014), Jill Neimark, Aeon
- Steen, R. G. (2011). Retractions in the scientific literature: Is the incidence of research fraud increasing? Journal of Medical Ethics, 37(4), 249-253. doi: 10.1136/jme.2010.040923.
- Séralini, Gilles-Eric; Clair, Emilie; Mesnage, Robin; Gress, Steeve; Defarge, Nicolas; Malatesta, Manuela; Hennequin, Didier; De Vendômois, Joël Spiroux (2012). "RETRACTED: Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize". Food and Chemical Toxicology. 50 (11): 4221–31. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005. PMID 22999595.
- Torin Alter. "Jacksoon's Retraction". APA. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16.
- Elaine Lies (4 June 2014). "Japan researcher agrees to withdraw disputed stem cell paper". Reuters. Retrieved 4 June 2014.
- "STAP paper co-author Sasai commits suicide". The Japan Times. Retrieved 5 August 2014.
- "Retraction: Enhanced Inhibition of Tumour Growth and Metastasis, and Induction of Antitumour Immunity by IL-2-IgG2b Fusion Protein". Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. 73 (3): 266. 2011. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3083.2011.02519.x. PMID 21391334.
The retraction has been agreed due to a finding of scientific misconduct within the laboratory where the experiments took place, and was brought to our attention by the scientific community.
- "Misconduct in science : An array of errors". The Economist. 10 September 2011.
- The Editors Of The Lancet (2010). "Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children". The Lancet. 375 (9713): 445. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PMID 20137807. Lay summary – BBC News (2010-02-02).
- Liu, Ming-Jin; Xiong, Cai-Hua; Xiong, Le; Huang, Xiao-Lin (January 5, 2016). "Biomechanical Characteristics of Hand Coordination in Grasping Activities of Daily Living". PLoS ONE. 11 (1): e0146193. Bibcode:2016PLoSO..1146193L. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0146193. PMC 4701170
. PMID 26730579. (Retracted)
- "Faith and Science Seeking Understanding: Reviewing #Creatorgate - Blog Series". BioLogos. 10 March 2016. Retrieved 2016-03-12.