Retraction Notices: Who Authored Them?

Authors : Shaoxiong Brian Xu, Guangwei Hu

Unlike other academic publications whose authorship is eagerly claimed, the provenance of retraction notices (RNs) is often obscured presumably because the retraction of published research is associated with undesirable behavior and consequently carries negative consequences for the individuals involved.

The ambiguity of authorship, however, has serious ethical ramifications and creates methodological problems for research on RNs that requires clear authorship attribution. This article reports a study conducted to identify RN textual features that can be used to disambiguate obscured authorship, ascertain the extent of authorship evasion in RNs from two disciplinary clusters, and determine if the disciplines varied in the distributions of different types of RN authorship.

Drawing on a corpus of 370 RNs archived in the Web of Science for the hard discipline of Cell Biology and the soft disciplines of Business, Finance, and Management, this study has identified 25 types of textual markers that can be used to disambiguate authorship, and revealed that only 25.68% of the RNs could be unambiguously attributed to authors of the retracted articles alone or jointly and that authorship could not be determined for 28.92% of the RNs.

Furthermore, the study has found marked disciplinary differences in the different categories of RN authorship. These results point to the need for more explicit editorial requirements about RN authorship and their strict enforcement.

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