Retracted publications in the drug literature

Pharmacotherapy. 2012 Jul;32(7):586-95. doi: 10.1002/j.1875-9114.2012.01100.x. Epub 2012 May 11.


Recent studies have suggested an increase in the number of retracted scientific publications. It is unclear how broadly the issue of misleading and fraudulent publications pertains to retractions of drug therapy studies. Therefore, we sought to determine the trends and factors associated with retracted publications in drug therapy literature. A PubMed search was conducted to identify retracted drug therapy articles published from 2000-2011. Articles were grouped according to reason for retraction, which was classified as scientific misconduct or error. Scientific misconduct was further divided into data fabrication, data falsification, questions of data veracity, unethical author conduct, and plagiarism. Error was defined as duplicate publication, scientific mistake, journal error, or unstated reasons. Additional data were extracted from the retracted articles, including type of article, funding source, author information, therapeutic area, and retraction issue. A total of 742 retractions were identified from 2000-2011 in the general biomedical literature, and 102 drug studies met our inclusion criteria. Of these, 73 articles (72%) were retracted for a reason classified as scientific misconduct, whereas 29 articles (28%) were retracted for error. Among the 73 articles classified as scientific misconduct, those classified as unethical author conduct (32 articles [44%]) and data fabrication (24 articles [33%]) constituted the majority. The median time from publication of the original article to retraction was 31 months (range 1-130). Fifty percent of retracted articles did not state a funding source, whereas pharmaceutical manufacturer funding accounted for only 13 articles (13%) analyzed. Many retractions were due to repeat offenses by a small number of authors, with nearly 40% of the retracted studies associated with two individuals. We found that a greater proportion of drug therapy articles were retracted for reasons of misconduct and fraud compared with other biomedical studies. It is important for health care practitioners to monitor the literature for retractions so that recommendations for drug therapy and patient management may be modified accordingly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Periodicals as Topic / standards
  • Periodicals as Topic / statistics & numerical data*
  • Publishing / standards
  • Publishing / statistics & numerical data
  • Research Design / standards
  • Research Design / statistics & numerical data
  • Retraction of Publication as Topic*
  • Scientific Misconduct / statistics & numerical data*
  • Time Factors