The retraction crisis has morphed into a citation crisis.
- Even after scientific papers are retracted, hundreds of studies cite them as evidence.
- Roughly four retractions occur per 10,000 publications, mostly in medicine, life sciences, and chemistry journals.
- Journals should implement control measures that block the publication of papers that cite retracted papers.
Will America’s disregard for science be the end of its reign? | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b9ffd5b853019c2a13ab262efb5a8243"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/S58vlJwhwDw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>As science journalist (and former marine biologist) Fanni Daniella Szakal <a href="https://massivesci.com/articles/science-retractions-publications-mistakes-month/" target="_blank">recently pointed out</a>, retracted papers are still being cited and used as gospel even when—sometimes it seems<em> especially when</em>—data are intentionally fabricated. Currently, roughly <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6413/390" target="_blank">four retractions occur per 10,000 publications</a>, with the <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0044118" target="_blank">highest percentages</a> being in medicine, life sciences, and chemistry journals.</p><p>That overall number might not seem high yet those retracted studies have an outsized influence. Wakefield claiming the MMR vaccine causes autism as a ruse to patent his own vaccine is the most infamous example, but there are others. </p><ul><li>A <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16354850/" target="_blank">2005 paper</a> touting omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids as having anti-inflammatory effects was <a href="https://journal.chestnet.org/article/S0012-3692(08)60339-6/fulltext" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">retracted in 2008</a> after it was discovered that one author intentionally falsified data. After 2008, however, 96 percent of papers that cited the study never mentioned that it had been retracted. </li><li>German anesthesiologist Joachim Boldt has a whopping <a href="https://retractionwatch.com/category/joachim-boldt-retractions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">103 retractions</a> credited to his name. Considered the <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/8360667/Millions-of-surgery-patients-at-risk-in-drug-research-fraud-scandal.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">greatest fraud in medicine</a> since Wakefield, his studies, including influential work on the role of hydroxyethyl starch, continues to be cited today.</li><li>Two <a href="https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/06/whos-blame-these-three-scientists-are-heart-surgisphere-covid-19-scandal" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">COVID-19 studies</a> published in reputable journals were retracted after their findings were deemed to be suspect. The researchers relied on a combination of big data and AI to replace randomized controlled clinical trials, leading to false results. Still, the retracted papers were cited in other prestigious journals and have been, in part, seized upon by anti-vaxxers that point to a nefarious medical industry trying to confuse us with conflicting evidence.</li></ul>
Gastroenterologist Dr Andrew Wakefield arrives with his wife Carmel flanked by supporters on July 16, 2007 in London, England.
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