Retractions research project

The COPE Code of Conduct states that editors have a responsibility to ensure the reliability of the scientific record, implying that it will sometimes be necessary to retract an article, but it has never attempted to develop detailed guidance about this. Anecdotal evidence suggests that editors may be reluctant to retract articles because of concerns about litigation or uncertainty about the correct procedures. We are therefore examining retractions to understand journals’ current practices and any difficulties faced by editors. We are examining all retractions published on Medline in the last 10 years and categorising them according to the reasons for the retraction, who issued the retraction, etc. We are also doing qualitative research (using a semi-structured interview with journal editors) to learn about their experience of retracting articles, to discover what prompted the action, how editors decided what to do, and any barriers they faced in implementing their plans. We also plan to survey journal editors to gather further information about the retraction process. We plan to use these findings as the basis for developing practical guidelines about when articles should be retracted and how this should be carried out. This project is a collaboration between Liz Wager (freelance publication consultant) and Peter Williams of University College, London.


This study has now been published in the Journal of Medical Ethics (J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/jme.2010.040964).  'Why and how do journals retract articles? An analysis of Medline retractions 1988–2008' was published online first on 12 April 2011.