What if your paper were retracted for no credible reason?

24 April, 2024

Retractions are meant to protect the integrity of the published record against erroneous content, but retraction procedures are not infallible.

In his article What if your paper were retracted for no credible reason? published last week in the journal Research Evaluation, CERGE-EI researcher Martin Srholec follows up on a case of an ungrounded retraction of his article on predatory journals (see our October 2021 article Standing up to Retraction of Inconvenient Research for more information), identifying imperfections in the regulatory framework of retractions and making recommendations that could remedy the shortcomings of retraction procedures in scientific journals.

"Scientific publishing is based on trust: the trust of readers that published articles are thoroughly peer-reviewed, the trust of reviewers that their pro bono work makes a difference, the trust of authors that editors act in good faith, and the trust of research funders that the publication system is reliable. In particular, authors trust that their published article will not be retracted just because it stepped on someone’s toes. Authors trust in the accountability of those who make publication and retraction decisions, and that if a mistake is occasionally made, the respective authority will correct it. However, in complex social systems, trust can be difficult to build but easy to break down, if the foundations on which trust rests become shaken or even destroyed.

[...] it is alarming that, as showcased in this paper, some actors in science publishing believe that they are at liberty to use retractions creatively to advance their own interests, and mechanisms that are supposed to be in place to hold them back do little, if anything at all, to remedy the situation. Business and other third-party interests have long exploited opportunities to supress inconvenient research. What is different today, however, is that these challenges come from within the scientific publication system and there are worrying signs that such interests have begun to exploit retractions to that end. If this becomes more common, scientific discourse and academic freedom at large are in danger. Scientists could lose trust in the publishing system and hesitate to write critically. In fact, this could be already happening."

Martin Srholec, What if your paper were retracted for no credible reason?, Research Evaluation, 2024;, rvae016,