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Medical study retractions.

As the number of medical studies increases, it is not unexpected that retractions have also increased. Most retracted studies are withdrawn because of authors' unintentional errors, but an increasing number result from deliberate fraud. R. Grant Steen, PhD, identified 742 retracted papers, written in English between 2000 and 2010, in the PubMed database. Fraud (intentional error) was cited as the reason for 26.6% of the retractions. Moreover, Steen found evidence that "authors of fraudulent retracted papers appear to target journals with a high [impact factor], often have several other retracted papers, tend to diffuse responsibility across [four or more] co-authors, delay retracting fraudulent papers, and collaborate with co-authors who also have other retracted papers."

Editors' and publishers' slow, sometimes absent response to flawed studies dismays bioethicists. Retracted studies continue to be cited in medical studies, partly because publishers do not always make it clear that a study has been withdrawn. Journals often post notes on their websites and/or use watermarks or append notices on PDF versions of retracted studies; but "31.8 % of retracted papers were not noted as retracted in any way" according to Steen's April 2011 study. Bioethicist Barbara Redman found 315 retracted articles from English-language journals between 1995 and 2004, just 0.0065% of over 5 million PubMed articles published during that period. Those 315 articles, however, were cited 3942 times before retraction and 4501 times after being withdrawn; scientists were using these flawed, withdrawn studies to support their own research. "Unless researchers take it upon themselves to double-check all their citations or are compelled to do so by journals as a condition of publication, retracted studies will continue to propagate through scientific literature," writes Roger Collier in Canadian Medical Association journal.

Collier R. Shedding light on retractions. Can Med Assoc /. April 19, 2011;183(7):E385-E386. Available at Accessed October 18, 2011.

Steen RG. Retractions in the scientific literature: do authors deliberately commit research fraud? I Med Ethics. 2011;37:113-117. Available at Accessed November 10, 2011.

__Retractions in the scientific literature: is the incidence of research fraud increasing? [abstract]; Med Ethics. 201t;37:249-253. Available at Accessed October 18, 2011.

Wager E, Williams P. Why and how do journals retract articles? An analysis of Medline retractions 1988-2008 [abstract]. I Med Ethics. 2011;37:567-570. Available at Accessed October 18, 2011.

briefed by Jule Klotter

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Title Annotation:Shorts
Author:Klotter, Jule
Publication:Townsend Letter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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