Retractions Under the Microscope
THE SOURCE: “The Trouble With Retractions” by Richard Van Noorden, in Nature, Oct. 6, 2011.
No scientist like to hear that a publication labored over for months or years contains a flaw so major that it must be withdrawn from the public record. Yet the number of retractions of published research has boomed in recent years. It was projected last fall that the Web of Science, an authoritative publication database, would record 400 retractions in 2011, up from an average of about 30 a year a decade ago.
What accounts for the surge? Scientists can breathe a sigh of relief—an explosion of shoddy research is probably not the culprit. The field has likely just developed more ways to detect flaws, writes Richard Van Noorden, an editor at Nature. After all, articles can now be run through computer programs that uncover plagiarism and image manipulation. Online publishing means greater circulation and more eyes to spot errors. Institutions such as the Office of Research Integrity in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have enacted regulations that improve the quality of research establishments and the publications they produce.
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