Author X recently published a paper in Journal Y and has asked for the paper to be retracted. The reason given is that part of the data presented in the paper was published without the permission of a colleague, who is not listed as an author of the paper (and probably does not qualify for full authorship). This colleague is now seeking to publish the data in another journal and it is implied that Author X is also a co-author on the second paper (which has been submitted, not yet accepted). During correspondence with Journal Y, Author X has confirmed that the data presented in the published paper are 'accurate and reproducible in all respects' and the conclusions of the paper are not affected. Author X acknowledges that this is a dispute regarding the use of data without permission, and understands that retraction is a serious matter. However rather than publish a correction, Author X prefers to retract the published paper in order to maintain a good relationship with colleagues. The decision to retract was reached through discussion with the researchers involved, and has not been requested by the authors' institution. As far as Journal Y knows, the institution has not been involved. Can and should Journal X refuse to publish a retraction on these grounds?
As the author has clearly stated that the data are correct, and the only dispute is a small section of the paper that was published without permission, the committee felt that a retraction is not necessary. As the degree of overlap is so small, this is unlikely to constitute duplicate submission. The second paper could cite the first paper and make a note that the data were published previously in error. The journal could publish a correction or an acknowledgement but the committee felt that the editor should hold firm and not agree to a retraction. The committee felt that contacting the author’s institution was not necessary in this instance.
The editor wrote to Author X and explained that COPE committee members had agreed that there were insufficient grounds to retract the paper published by Journal Y. Instead the editor recommended that Journal Y publish a correction to the paper acknowledging the input of the colleague who generated the data in question. The editor also noted that it should be made very clear to the editors of the other journal that the data had been previously published in Journal Y. Author X passed this recommendation onto his colleagues who then agreed to publication of a correction rather than retraction of the paper. Author X expressed appreciation to us and to COPE for helping to resolve this matter.