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Flawed chemistry papers can take more than a year to be retracted

Many of the retractions in new study were for self-plagiarism

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
August 28, 2023


Almost 59% of the chemistry papers retracted in the last two decades were pulled due to research misconduct, and the process often took more than a year, a new analysis finds.

Research misconduct is defined by the US Office of Research Integrity as falsification, fabrication, or plagiarism. The study, which appeared in ACS Omega on Aug. 21 (DOI: 10.1021/acsomega.3c03689), used the Retraction Watch database to analyze 1,292 chemistry papers retracted between 2001 and 2021.

1.7 years

Median time required for flawed chemistry papers to be retracted

Of the papers retracted for misconduct, more than 40% were for self-plagiarism. The high instance suggests that many researchers aren’t well versed on how to cite previous literature appropriately, says study author Yulia Sevryugina, chemistry librarian at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

The chemistry papers in question had a median peer review time of 71 days. Those that were eventually retracted for fraud took only 43 days to get through peer review. The median retraction time was 1.7 years.

“When the allegation is misconduct of some kind, the journal has to investigate,” Sevryugina says. “I do wish the process was quicker, though.” She says it could be accelerated by improving communication between the parties involved and having a uniform set of rules.

In cases of honest error, Sevryugina adds, journals often prefer to issue corrections instead of retractions. She notes that the term “retraction” has negative connotations, making authors reluctant to self-retract incorrect findings. Sevryugina argues that more neutral terms, like “amendment,” could be introduced for cases where researchers notice errors in their work and come forth to fix them.



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