December 30, 2011

The Year of the Retraction: A look back at 2011

If Retraction Watch was actually a business, as opposed — for the moment, anyway — to a labor of love for two guys with day jobs, 2011 would have been a very good year for business.

It was a year that will probably see close to 400 retractions, including a number of high-profile ones, once the dust settles. Those high numbers caught the attention of a lot of major media outlets, from Nature to NPR to the Wall Street Journal. Science publications, including LiveScience and The Scientist, have done their own end-of-year retraction lists.
It was also a good year for us at Retraction Watch. Many news outlets featured us in their coverage, either picking up stories we’d broken or asking us for comment on big-picture issues. Three national NPR programs — Science Friday, On the Media, and All Things Considered — had us on air. We launched a column in LabTimes, and Nature asked us to write a year-end commentary. We even earned a Wikipedia entry.
All of that has contributed to the fact that sometime today, we’ll surpass 1.5 million pageviews. We’ve tapped into a passionate and helpful community of readers, without whom much of Retraction Watch wouldn’t be possible. You send us great tips, add valuable commentary, keep us honest by correcting our errors, and encourage us at ever step.
So: Thank you.
Now, which journals had the most retractions?
By our unofficial count, the winner would appear to be the Journal of Biological Chemistry, with 15. Those tended to come in groups, with four from Silvia Bulfone-Paus’s lab, four from the late Maria Diverse-Pierlussi’s group, three from Jesse Roman’s lab, and two from Zhiguo Wang’s. One of the other two was from Harvard cancer researcher — and New Yorker staff writer — Jerome Groopman’s lab. There are four more on the way from Ashok Kumar’s University of Ottawa lab, although it looks as though those will actually appear in 2012.
We covered seven in Blood, eight in the Proceedings of the National Academy Sciences, and eight in the Journal of Immunology.
Science had five, including two very high-profile ones, longevity genes and chronic fatigue syndrome-XMRV, compared to just two last year.
Last year, Nature did some soul-searching when they got to November and had published four retractions. This year, they published just one.
Rounding out the “glamour journals,” Cell had just one, compared to four last year.
Personal best?
Of course, the person with the most retractions was Joachim Boldt, with 89. Naoki Mori was a distant second, with 32, although a few of those ran last year. Claudio Airoldi’s group retracted 11. And most of the journals listed above were touched by other big names in Retractionville, including Bulfone-Paus, who has now retracted 13, and Anil Potti, who has now retracted 7.
Jatinder Ahluwalia was only forced to retract one paper this year, after retracting one last year. But the revelations that followed cost him a job at the University of East London, and may cause Imperial to strip him of his PhD. His case is a good reminder of why it’s a good idea to poke at what lies beneath retractions.
Here were our top five posts by traffic:
  1. The retraction of an editorial about why semen is a good Valentine’s Day gift, by eminent surgeon Lazar Greenfield
  2. The retraction of a bizarre paper claiming that science and spirituality both came from space
  3. Our coverage of the Claudio Airoldi case
  4. Our scoop on two retractions by Zhiguo Wang, who later resigned from the Montreal Heart Institute
Looking forward to 2012
Our wish list is much the same as it was for 2011, particularly better explanations of why particular papers are being retracted, and better publicity for retractions. We’ll add one item to that list: Journals, please stop letting researchers make claims in retraction notices and corrections, unless you peer-review them. Why should we trust the word of researchers who’ve demonstrated they make errors, intentional or not?
And we’ll be keeping an eye on what may be an emerging trend: The mega-correction. We’ve seen errata notices that correct so many different errors, it’s hard to believe the paper shouldn’t have been retracted. It’s unclear what this means yet, but watch this space for coverage of more examples.
We also may be coming to your town. See our list of upcoming appearances, which will be regularly updated. Get in touch if you’d like to host us; we love engaging with readers in person. And don’t forget the Retraction Watch Store.
Happy New Year.

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