Importance: The number of citations can be used to show the influence of an article or to measure the validity of a research study. The article by Wakefield et al that fraudulently reported an association between vaccination and autism continues to accumulate citations even after it was retracted.
Objectives: To examine the characteristics of citations from scholarly literature that reference the 1998 article by Wakefield et al and to investigate whether authors are accurately citing retracted references.
Design, setting, and participants: In this cross-sectional bibliographic analysis of the scholarly publications that cited a 1998 article by Wakefield et al, cited references were collected from a Web of Science Core Collection search performed on March 11, 2019. A total of 1211 articles were identified, with 58 citing works excluded because they were non-English-language publications or the citation to the study by Wakefield et al could not be located by reviewers. Citing works consisted of books, research articles, letters, editorials, news items, and other scholarly literature. Citations to the article by Wakefield et al were identified and analyzed by 2 reviewers in a blinded screening. Reviewers assigned a characteristic to each citation and indicated whether the retraction was documented.
Main outcomes and measures: The characteristics of citations to the article by Wakefield et al, were categorized as negative, affirmative, or contrastive; if not, persuasive; and if not, assumptive, perfunctory, methodologic, or conceptual. Whether the partial retraction or notice of retraction was included in the citing work was also documented.
Results: Among the 1153 citing works included in this analysis, the most common citation characteristics were negative (838 [72.7%]) followed by perfunctory (106 [9.2%]) and affirmative (94 [8.2%]). A total of 123 of 322 citing works (38.2%) published between 2005 and 2010 documented the partial retraction. After the notice of retraction was published in 2010, the percentage of citing works that documented the partial retraction and/or notice of retraction between 2011 and 2018 increased to 360 of 502 (71.7%).
Conclusions and relevance: Since the article by Wakefield et al was initially published, authors have mostly negated the findings of the study. A significant number of authors did not document retractions of the article by Wakefield et al. The findings suggest that improvements are needed from publishers, bibliographic databases, and citation management software to ensure that retracted articles are accurately documented.