The Continued Use of Retracted, Invalid Scientific Literature

JAMA. 1990 Mar 9;263(10):1420-3.


Little is known about the ultimate scientific fate of retracted, invalid literature. We identified 82 completely retracted articles by electronic and manual methods and measured their subsequent use in the scientific literature by performing citation analysis. After retraction, these studies were cited, for support of scientific concepts, 733 times. Comparison with a control group revealed that retraction reduces subsequent citation by approximately 35%. There was no evidence that small, obscure journals, non-US journals, or non-US authors were disproportionately responsible for these citations. Although, after retraction, US authors accounted for a smaller percentage of citations, they continued to be the single greatest source. Several possible reasons why invalid information continues to be used were identified. These included a dearth of available information on retracted works; inconsistency in retraction format, terminology, and indexing; and an apparent lack of sufficient attention to manuscripts by some authors and editors.

KIE: The authors performed a citation analysis on 82 articles retracted because of fraud or error to measure their subsequent use in the scientific literature. The 82 articles were cited 733 times after retraction, with a small percentage of the subsequent citations referring to the retraction as well as to the original article. Pfeifer and Snodgrass conclude that articles citing invalid, retracted work are "abundant and ubiquitous." They identify several possible reasons why invalid scientific information is not being effectively purged from the literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asia
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Canada
  • Editorial Policies*
  • Europe
  • Information Dissemination*
  • Internationality
  • Publishing / standards*
  • Retraction of Publication as Topic*
  • Scientific Misconduct*
  • United States