Self-retraction and how it can impact your research career
Honest errors in the conduct, analysis and/or reporting of a study, as well as deliberate breaches in publication ethics or research ethics, constitute reasons for the retraction of a paper. Such articles threaten the integrity of the scientific record and should be purged from the literature. Retractions are usually the result of concerns raised by editors or readers. When authors request the retraction of their own work, it is called a self-retraction.
After their work is published, authors might stumble upon serious errors in their data or methodology, for example, an error in the code of a program used to model or analyse the data. Such mistakes may be difficult for the editor or reviewers to identify, but they undermine the whole study. Therefore, as soon as authors become cognisant of such mistakes, they must initiate a retraction themselves. This will prevent other researchers from basing their work on a faulty study.
Minor mistakes and partial retraction
Corrections like errata and addenda can be resorted to in the case of minor slip-ups. Some journals even allow partial retraction when, for instance, one figure is erroneous but the conclusions of a paper remain unaffected.
Making a self-retraction
Irrespective of the scale of the error, as soon as you identify it, inform all the co-authors and discuss the next steps. If you wish to retract your manuscript partially or fully, send a request via email to the editorial office detailing the reasons and inquiring about the journal’s self-retraction guidelines.
The final decision by the editorial board and issuance of the retraction notice can take months. The article might have the word ‘RETRACTED’ next to the title in its record and/or across the text in large red letters; the reason for the retraction may or may not be given.
How self-retractions can impact you
Retractions have a negative ring to them because they are mostly associated with misconduct. However, many acknowledge that self-retractions should be distinguished from retractions arising from misconduct. The issuance of a self-retraction might raise your standing as a researcher because it points to your integrity and commitment to upholding the scientific record. Further, one study showed that self-retraction has no impact on an author’s citation rate.
However, too many self-retractions would raise a red flag about an author’s reliability. Also, if you are requesting a retraction, there should be a valid reason. Journal editors might get suspicious of an unethical practice wherein authors submit the same paper to two journals and withdraw or retract it from one journal if the preferred journal publishes it. Duplicate publication is a serious type of misconduct and can even lead to a double retraction (a retraction from both journals).
Authors are increasingly being appreciated for their honesty in taking responsibility for their errors. Should the need for self-retraction arise, you should do the right thing without worrying about the effects on your reputation or career.
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