New guidelines on retractions are now available from COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics

New guidelines on retractions are now available from COPE – the Committee on Publication Ethics. The guidelines were written by Liz Wager, chair of COPE, and other members of the COPE council, including myself.

Retractions have always been difficult to handle, yet properly used are an essential part of correcting the scientific record. Confusion often occurs about whether, and when, it is appropriate to issue a full or partial retraction, or an expression of concern or just a correction.

The guide aims to clarify all of these issues and in addition provides some practical tips such as on linking to the original article and ensuring that the retraction is freely available.

The guidelines are published under an open-access license.

The summary of them is below.

Journal editors should consider retracting a publication if:

• they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)

• the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)

• it constitutes plagiarism

• it reports unethical research

Journal editors should consider issuing an expression of concern if:

• they receive inconclusive evidence of research or publication misconduct by the authors

• there is evidence that the findings are unreliable but the authors’ institution will not investigate the case

• they believe that an investigation into alleged misconduct related to the publication either has not been, or would not be, fair and impartial or conclusive

• an investigation is underway but a judgement will not be available for a considerable time

Journal editors should consider issuing a correction if:

• a small portion of an otherwise reliable publication proves to be misleading (especially because of honest error)

• the author / contributor list is incorrect (i.e. a deserving author has been omitted or somebody who does not meet authorship criteria has been included)

Retractions are not usually appropriate if:

• a change of authorship is required but there is no reason to doubt the validity of the findings

Notices of retraction should:

• be linked to the retracted article wherever possible (i.e. in all electronic versions)

• clearly identify the retracted article (e.g. by including the title and authors in the retraction heading)

• be clearly identified as a retraction (i.e. distinct from other types of correction or comment)

• be published promptly to minimize harmful effects from misleading publications

• be freely available to all readers (i.e. not behind access barriers or available only to subscribers)

• state who is retracting the article

• state the reason(s) for retraction (to distinguish misconduct from honest error)

• avoid statements that are potentially defamatory or libellous

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