An author's institution requires that authors publish a set amount of times per year in journals that are indexed by Scopus in order to retain their tenure. The author submits to an open access journal and their paper is published after processing charges are paid. After publication the journal is dropped from the Scopus index. The author asks for the paper to be withdrawn by the journal so that they can submit to a different journal that meets their institution’s requirements.
The publisher removes the paper but it has been indexed for Crossref’s Similarity Check database, meaning that if the author submits to another journal it will produce a 100% match and provide evidence of prior publication. The author is asking that Crossref removes the article from the Similarity Check database.
Crossref is seeing an increasing number of requests like this, where authors are asking for their articles to be removed from journals that they no longer perceive to be a suitable place for publication. Removing the article from the Similarity Check database will allow the author to publish elsewhere, but it could be argued that this obscures the scholarly record by “hiding” the fact that the article has been published before.
Question for the COPE Forum
- Should CrossRef remove the article from the database and give the author a "clean slate" to submit the paper elsewhere?
The Forum noted that retracting an article when the indexing of the article in a database such as Scopus or Web of Science changes is not an acceptable practice and is not in accordance with COPE’s Retraction Guidelines. This practice could be considered gaming the system.
The authors should be disclosing, in their cover letter to the new journal, that the article was previously retracted. If CrossRef removes the article from the Similarity Check, they are essentially enabling the authors to hide from scrutiny. Hence the Forum would not recommend that CrossRef remove these articles. Articles are withdrawn and retracted for a number of reasons, and from the editor’s perspective, it is helpful to see the history of the article and the reasons it might have been withdrawn. Hence hiding the history of an article is problematic.
If an author is required to publish in a Scopus indexed journal, when the paper was published it was indexed and hence would have met the requirements of the submission or tenure documentation. It was only subsequently that the journal lost its indexing. Hence authors are gaming the system by asking for retraction of the article and for the history of any prior submissions of that article to be erased. Therefore, by removing the article, CrossRef would be complicit in hiding that information from the authors' employer.
If an author regrets publishing a paper in a low quality journal and subsequently gets the paper retracted, they should explain their mistake to the next journal editor and provide documentation to prove it. Effectively, the burden of proof should be on the author as they made the mistake. It is then up to the new journal to decide if they consider this legitimate and to process the article.
In summary, the Forum recommended not removing articles from the database and forcing the burden of proof onto the authors. CrossRef can legitimately and ethically decide against removing the articles based on the fact that when papers are retracted for other reasons, they remain in the database. CrossRef does not make decisions or judgements on the nature or form of the retraction. CrossRef provides the historic evidence of where that article has appeared over time.
CrossRef are updating their best practice guidance and have shared the case information with Turnitin, and the directors and board of Crossref. A blog about the case will be posted soon and it will appear in the member newsletter. The case is now closed.