|The New Hockey Stick|
Published online 5 October 2011 | Nature 478, 26-28 (2011) | doi:10.1038/478026a
Science publishing: The trouble with retractions
A surge in withdrawn papers is highlighting weaknesses in the system for handling them.
This week, some 27,000 freshly published research articles will pour into the Web of Science, Thomson Reuters' vast online database of scientific publications. Almost all of these papers will stay there forever, a fixed contribution to the research literature. But 200 or so will eventually be flagged with a note of alteration such as a correction. And a handful — maybe five or six — will one day receive science's ultimate post-publication punishment: retraction, the official declaration that a paper is so flawed that it must be withdrawn from the literature.
It is reassuring that retractions are so rare, for behind at least half of them lies some shocking tale of scientific misconduct — plagiarism, altered images or faked data — and the other half are admissions of embarrassing mistakes. But retraction notices are increasing rapidly. In the early 2000s, only about 30 retraction notices appeared annually. This year, the Web of Science is on track to index more than 400 (see 'Rise of the retractions') — even though the total number of papers published has risen by only 44% over the past decade.