Journal Retraction Patterns

Nature News features a write-up on patterns of article retraction by high- and low-impact journals. Murat Cokol and his colleagues at Columbia (M. Cokol et al. EMBO Rep. 5, 422–423; 2007) identified 596 retracted articles (out of 9.4 million articles published from 1950-2004 per PubMed) and noted that journals with high impact factors were more likely to retract papers than low-impact journals. The authors suggest that high- and low-impact journals have the same batting average in detecting flawed articles before they are published.

The Nature piece goes on to provide the sort of informal peer review not given to the EMBO correspondence. Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of JAMA, and Sandra Titus, director of intramural research at ORI, point out a number of flaws, such as the introduction of scientific misconduct policies only within the last 20 years (while the Cokol sample goes back to 1950) and the need to retract other papers by an author once one instance of misconduct is identified. They also comment on the vagaries of impact factors and legal barriers to retraction.


  1. drugmonkey said

    Also see Nath et al. Med J Aust. 2006 Aug 7;185(3):152-4.

    The three journals with the highest number of retractions in this study were Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and Nature. It seems highly unlikely that these journals are prone to publishing shoddy research. Instead, this elevated error rate may reflect the high level of post-publication scrutiny received by the articles in these journals. It is likely to be easier for errors to slip by undetected in less widely read and cited journals. In addition, the complexity and rigour associated with studies published in these journals may lead to a higher risk for error in implementing and replicating the research. Furthermore, the large volume of articles published in these journals may naturally increase the rate of error among them

    I’m delighted to see that the Nature News piece actually touches on the (gasp) possibility that the tangible benefits of publication in a high-impact-factor journal may actually promote misconduct.

    What else can I say but thanks for writing my blog for me, drugmonkey. All excellent points regarding why the high impact journals do so much retracting (& why they’ll continue to do so). – writedit

  2. […] one, our bad” or, at worst, blames some chump pre/postdoc. It is no accident that there are more retractions from higher impact journals, no matter what excuses those with a stake in the matter might […]

  3. […] get into discussions about this problem from time to time. Although I’ve perhaps touched on the issues in blog posts once or twice, I’ve […]

  4. […] Sounds familiar. Do say more, Dr. Ioannidis (who in 2005 published Why Most Published Research Findings Are False […]

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