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, 6 (11), e012047

Why Articles Are Retracted: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study of Retraction Notices at BioMed Central


Why Articles Are Retracted: A Retrospective Cross-Sectional Study of Retraction Notices at BioMed Central

Elizabeth C Moylan et al. BMJ Open.


Objectives: To assess why articles are retracted from BioMed Central journals, whether retraction notices adhered to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) guidelines, and are becoming more frequent as a proportion of published articles.

Design/setting: Retrospective cross-sectional analysis of 134 retractions from January 2000 to December 2015.

Results: 134 retraction notices were published during this timeframe. Although they account for 0.07% of all articles published (190 514 excluding supplements, corrections, retractions and commissioned content), the rate of retraction is rising. COPE guidelines on retraction were adhered to in that an explicit reason for each retraction was given. However, some notices did not document who retracted the article (eight articles, 6%) and others were unclear whether the underlying cause was honest error or misconduct (15 articles, 11%). The largest proportion of notices was issued by the authors (47 articles, 35%). The majority of retractions were due to some form of misconduct (102 articles, 76%), that is, compromised peer review (44 articles, 33%), plagiarism (22 articles, 16%) and data falsification/fabrication (10 articles, 7%). Honest error accounted for 17 retractions (13%) of which 10 articles (7%) were published in error. The median number of days from publication to retraction was 337.5 days.

Conclusions: The most common reason to retract was compromised peer review. However, the majority of these cases date to March 2015 and appear to be the result of a systematic attempt to manipulate peer review across several publishers. Retractions due to plagiarism account for the second largest category and may be reduced by screening manuscripts before publication although this is not guaranteed. Retractions due to problems with the data may be reduced by appropriate data sharing and deposition before publication. Adopting a checklist (linked to COPE guidelines) and templates for various classes of retraction notices would increase transparency of retraction notices in future.

Keywords: data; misconduct; peer review; plagiarism; retraction; retraction guidelines.

Conflict of interest statement

Both authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form and declare we are employed by BioMed Central. Since the manuscript has been revised ECM has been co-opted as a COPE Council Member, but this study did not involve COPE. We declare no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Growth in retractions compared with growth in total articles published (excluding supplements, corrections, retractions and commissioned content).
Figure 2
Figure 2
Growth in retractions showing variation in reasons for retracting articles from 2000 to 2015.

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