Academic journal

Retractions are not a panacea for bad research

Retractions — when an academic journal withdraws a previously published study — are a big problem for researchers. Such withdrawals fix the record and remove misinformation from circulation, and they happen more often than you might think. According to the Retraction Watch database, more than 3,100 scientific articles and studies have been retracted since 2020 in what researchers say is a reflection of heightened editorial scrutiny.

But retractions don’t just hurt careers and tarnish the trustworthiness of the scientific community: a study finds they fail to reduce the reach of misinformation.

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In the paper, published in PNAS last month, the researchers argue that most retractions don’t happen early enough to prevent the spread of flawed science.

The team studied nearly 3,000 retracted articles from the past decade, examining their reach in news publications, social media and elsewhere online. When they compared the reach of discredited articles to that of 13,500 studies that were not retracted, they found that problematic articles received more attention and were mentioned more often on news platforms than their counterparts. , probably due to their convincing results.

Despite the early hype, however, attention has waned over time. The number of social media and news mentions upon publication was higher than articles that were not discredited, and the distribution of mentions suggests that most people who had been aware of the results reported by the studies were unaware of retractions.

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“A key takeaway is that retractions come too late,” Daniel Romero, a University of Michigan professor and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “They remain important, but they do not serve to diminish the attention we give to these problematic newspapers because, by the time they arrive, the public no longer pays much attention to the original newspaper.”

It’s unclear whether the increased attention the flashy search is garnering contributes to any retractions. And despite a greater focus on research that would eventually be withdrawn, the spotlight wasn’t always adoring. Social media users on Twitter were twice as likely to criticize studies that were eventually removed from reviews as those that remained.

Nevertheless, the researchers conclude that “journals, the scientific community, and the general public should not view retraction as an effective tool for reducing online attention to problematic articles.”