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Power Researcher Challenge

Welcome to Day 4 of the Power Researcher Challenge!

What does it mean when an article or an information source is retracted? Although research data and images are sometimes fabricated (such as a 2016 study published in Science about a Japanese earthquake), it's not always explicit malfeasance or misconduct that prompts a retraction. Just this year, the World Health Organization formally retracted its controversial opioid guidelines, "in light of new scientific evidence that has emerged since the time of their publication," and a Nobel Prize winner retracted a paper in 2019 when she and her team were unable to replicate their findings.

There are myriad approaches to discovering retracted information in order to build and maintain your own scholarly integrity, and to stay apprised of key issues in scholarly publishing. Let's look at one together!

Retraction Watch logo

Launched in August 2010, Retraction Watch is a scholarly blog whose tagline is, "Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process."

Built and maintained by researchers and medical experts, Retraction Watch: 

  • provides a searchable database of over 21,000 retractions as of January 2020. Emphasis is on life sciences and medicine, although there is representation in the social sciences and humanities
  • offers current and future researchers lessons learned from publishing mishaps, mistakes, and malfeasance
  • represents the responsibilities incumbent on scholarly communities (including authors and publishers) to observe and care for the integrity of their publications
  • aims to help maintain transparency in the scholarly publishing process

There is no one place to find all retractions, so this site aims to help demystify the retraction process and what retractions look like in the scholarly record.

Let's get started!

1. Go to Retraction Watch's database of retractions. In case you're interested, take a look at their database user guide.

2. In the database search box, select your discipline/field/subject area or one that is of interest to you. Use the down arrow next to the "Subject(s)" field to find a discipline related to your work or interests. 

3. Look at a retraction of interest, and note the rationale for the retraction. Reasons for retractions range from data errors and concerns about image validity, to conflicts of interest, manipulation of results, duplicate publication, and/or an inability to reproduce results. NoteThese are key indicators of research practice, policies, expectations, and possible mistakes to keep on your radar.

4. See if you can figure out how many publications have cited the retracted article you found, and consider what this might imply for the discipline or field in which this study was published, as well as for subsequent authors who consulted the retracted article for their own scholarship. Note: one approach to looking at who's cited a work is to search for the article in Google Scholar. You can explore whether/if the now retracted article was an important contribution to the work that cited it.

5. Consider how the retractions you identified might inform your own scholarly practice. What surprised you about some of the retractions you found? What are some of the errors that scholars made? How might you plan for and avoid these types of mistakes?

BONUS Challenge: How will you know if you've landed on a retracted article when you find it?

It's not always obvious, but below are a few ways that retractions are displayed. See if you would have noticed that the following articles were retracted if you had discovered these articles on your own.

Next, Google this article. Has it been retracted? Unless you add 'retracted' or 'retraction' to your search, this is an example of an article search that can be misleading given that it is impressively difficult to figure out its backstory.

Want to stay apprised of the latest news on research integrity?

Interested in a more nuanced view of retractions, including which disciplines evince the most retractions and who are the repeat offenders? 

Preparing for the final challenge

Nice job rooting around in Retraction Watch! For our final challenge, we will look at how you can avoid link rot in your references by preserving access to your sources for future readers of your work. And, it's free!

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