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I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.
The process to retract research may be so slow and stigmatizing that a recent workshop of science and medical journal editors suggested several replacement terms for the word 'retraction', finds a report recently published in Science.
Science reports retractions currently are strongly associated with research misconduct and public shaming, although some withdrawals of published manuscripts in major journals sometimes do not stem from author misbehavior or intentional inaccuracy.
Incidentally, Science refers to retraction (and we quote): 'as the dreaded r-word' (end of quote).
While Science explains stigma may be one reason to rethink the current retraction system, expedience provides a second rationale. Science writes: (and we quote): "Universities and journals are often slow to retract a paper, waiting for the outcome of lengthy investigations. Journals sometimes add an 'editorial expression of concern' to a paper in the meantime. But such notes can be stigmatizing too, and if it's clear the data are wrong, some argue it's better to pull a paper and report the causes later" (end of quote).
Science reports a recent workshop of science and medical journal editors proposed several new terms that they perceive are more precise and provide some wiggle room for all concerned.
For example, instead of a retraction, under the new suggested guidelines an editor can place a paper under (and we quote) 'withdrawal' (end of quote), which means new evidence, data, results, methods, or theoretical arguments invalidate the claims of a previously published refereed manuscript.
Another proposed option declares a manuscript could be (and we quote) 'canceled' (end of quote), if its exit is the publisher's or editor's fault — instead of the author.
The workshop additionally proposes three other terms that cover situations: where the original authors remove a manuscript; where a paper contains serious risks to society, individuals, or the environment; or if a guideline or recommendation article becomes outdated and the original authors are unable to revise it. The workshop was held at Stanford University late last year.
Under the workshop's guidelines, Science notes the word 'retraction' would be used only if a manuscript's evidence is both incorrect and fraudulent.
Science reports some of the workshop's suggestions have met with some resistance because they may not address whether it is a journal's responsibility to keep the literature accurate - or find and punish those who engage in academic misconduct.
Science adds there has been a sharp increase in retractions in the 21st century, which may undergird the current concern. Retractionwatch.com, an independent publication, keeps close track of retractions in biomedical journals.
Regardless, the proposed changes strike us as misunderstanding that one purpose of withdrawing scientific articles is to boost the profession's integrity and transparency with the public more than peers. While an array of terms to explain retraction may be precise and internally useful, it strikes us as confusing to taxpayers and citizens.
Meanwhile, the National Human Genome Research Institute provides an overview of clinical research within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's understanding medical research health topic page. The Lewy Body Dementia Association adds a website about how to read a research paper also in the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's understanding medical research health topic page.
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