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Retracted chemistry studies most often plagued with plagiarism

Data and authorship come next for chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering papers published in 2017 and 2018

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla
May 31, 2019


Pie chart showing relative frequency of reasons for paper retractions.
Analysis of 331 retracted papers in the fields of chemistry, materials science, and engineering showed that more than 40% were withdrawn for plagiarism.
Source:Chem. Mater. 2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.9b00897
Note: The sum of the four main categories exceeds the total number of papers because some retractions list more than one reason.

More than 40% of chemistry papers retracted in the last two years were pulled because of plagiarism, finds a study published in Chemistry of Materials (2019, DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.9b00897).

François-Xavier Coudert, a computational chemist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, sifted the database Scopus for retraction notices in the fields of chemistry, materials science, and chemical engineering.

He found 331 retractions appearing in 2017 and 2018. In those 2 years, more than 1.1 million papers from the selected fields were published, Coudert reports, meaning that around three out of every 10,000 manuscripts eventually had to be pulled.

Of the retracted papers, 131 were identified for plagiarism, which includes self-plagiarism and duplicate publication. The next most common reason for retraction was falsified, fabricated or problematic data, with some retraction notices clearly citing research misconduct.

Authorship issues—including author lists missing coauthors, lack of authorization to publish, and affiliation errors—were the next highest cause of retraction, the study found. Only 16% of papers in the sample were yanked over honest errors and lack of reproducibility.

“I really expected there would be more retractions for ‘honest mistakes’ which, I am sure, happen from time to time in every lab.” Coudert tells C&EN. “But it is far from representing the majority of cases.”

Last year, the research integrity blog Retraction Watch released a searchable database of more than 18,000 retracted papers. At the time, Science and Retraction Watch reported that the number of retractions reported annually across all fields have shot up from fewer than 100 before 2000 to nearly 1,000 in 2014.

Coudert also looked at differences in retraction rates by country. “It’s sometimes commonplace to link China to shady publication ethics, in particular due to cash incentives for publication and certain high-profile cases,” he says. “But at least in the case of chemistry, China does not have a significantly higher retraction rate than the US.”

The story isn’t the same for India and Iran, however. Scientists in India contributed to over 17% retractions in the sample, while pumping out only around 7% of the papers overall. Authors in Iran were involved with over 11% of retractions but produced just 2.7% of the articles in the sample.

Using a measure that ranks countries by the number of retractions per paper published, Science and Retraction Watch found Iran to top the list, with Romania coming second. When they ranked nations according to the number of retractions per dollar of national research funding, Romania jumped to first place.

Editor’s note: Dalmeet Singh Chawla worked as a full time reporter for Retraction Watch in 2016.


The deck of this article was updated on June 7, 2019, to reflect that retractions for data issues are more common than for authorship issues.



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