You’ve probably heard of Retraction Watch, the influential research integrity blog that reports on the retraction of scientific papers, aiming to increase transparency in science. The blog was founded in 2010 by two established health journalists, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus. After several years of compiling and reporting on retractions of scientific papers, it has just made public all of its findings in a searchable, openly-accessible database.
Why is this important?
Reputable scientific journals employ all sorts of checks and balances to ensure that what they publish is ‘good science’. But sometimes mistakes happen, and a paper is found to contain incorrect data, invalid assumptions or even, in some cases, scientific fraud like fabricated results, plagiarism or faked peer-review by the authors. When this comes to light, the whole paper can be retracted. But if retractions and the reasons behind them are not publicised and shared widely, other researchers can waste time, effort and funds trying to build on or replicate the findings of the original paper.
Science Magazine describes the newly launched Retraction Watch database as “the largest and most comprehensive of its kind. It includes more than 18,000 retracted papers and conference abstracts dating back to the 1970s (and even one paper from 1756 involving Benjamin Franklin).”
It’s important to note that retractions are not supposed to be an ‘author punishment’ or an admission of scientific misconduct – they are intended to correct the public record on a piece of research. Some retractions are due to honest mistakes, so it’s important to take note of the reasons for a retraction, and any additional information available.
What’s in the database?
The Retraction Watch database contains retractions, corrections and expressions of concern. You can search by journal, author, affiliation, and many other criteria. If Retraction Watch has written an article about a particular case, you can click in the results to read more about it.
For example, we searched for retractions and corrections from any journal with ‘Cancer’ in the title, and got 308 results. We filtered to view only retractions made in 2018, and there were 57 results.
The interface for searching the database doesn’t have the most user-friendly appearance, but there is a user guide that explains how it works.
Read about the Loss of Confidence Project, which aims “to destigmatize declaring a loss of confidence in one’s own research”.