Characterizing the effect of retractions on scientific careers

Authors : Shahan Ali Memon, Kinga Makovi, Bedoor AlShebli

Retracting academic papers is a fundamental tool of quality control when the validity of papers or the integrity of authors is questioned post-publication. While retractions do not completely eliminate papers from the record, they have far-reaching consequences for retracted authors and their careers, serving as a visible and permanent signal of potential transgressions.

Previous studies have highlighted the adverse effects of retractions on citation counts and co-authors’ citations; however, the underlying mechanisms driving these effects and the broader impacts beyond these traditional metrics have not been fully explored.

We address this gap leveraging Retraction Watch, the most extensive data set on retractions and link it to Microsoft Academic Graph, a comprehensive data set of scientific publications and their citation networks, and Altmetric that monitors online attention to scientific output. Our investigation focuses on: 1) the likelihood of authors exiting scientific publishing following retraction, and 2) the evolution of collaboration networks among authors who continue publishing after retraction.

Our empirical analysis reveals that retracted authors, particularly those with less experience, tend to leave scientific publishing in the aftermath of retraction, particularly if their retractions attract widespread attention.

Furthermore, we uncover a pattern whereby retracted authors who remain active in publishing tend to maintain and establish more collaborations compared to their similar non-retracted counterparts.

Taken together, notwithstanding the indispensable role of retractions in upholding the integrity of the academic community, our findings shed light on the disproportionate impact that retractions impose on early-career researchers as opposed to those with more established careers.