Retraction Watch is a blog that reports on retractions of scientific papers. The blog was launched in August 2010 and is produced by science writers Ivan Oransky (executive editor of Reuters Health) and Adam Marcus (managing editor of Anesthesiology News).
Oransky and Marcus were motivated to launch the blog to increase the transparency of the retraction process. They observed that retractions of papers generally are not announced, and the reasons for retractions are not publicized. One result is that other researchers or the public who are unaware of the retraction may make decisions based on invalid results. Oransky describes an example of a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that reported the identification of a molecule that could cause breast cancers to respond to a drug that otherwise was not effective on this type of tumor. Although the paper was retracted, its retraction was not reported in the media outlets that had reported on its conclusions, and before it was retracted a company had been established to make use of the reported discovery.
The blog argues that retractions provide a window into the self-correcting nature of science, and can provide insight into cases of scientific fraud. Its operators say that as science journalists, they have "found retractions to be the source of great stories that say a lot about how science is conducted."
When asked why a particular paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society had been retracted, the author told Retraction Watch that an error in the study had been discovered after publication, and that the technique he had described in the paper as an advancement was actually no more useful than the existing technique. Science journalist Ben Goldacre commented, "That's useful information, much more informative than the paper simply disappearing one morning," noting that the retracted paper had already been cited 14 times "by people who believed it to be true."
Some journal editors are unwilling to respond to enquiries from Retraction Watch. On one single instance, when contacted about a retracted paper, the editor of one medical journal told the blog: “It’s none of your damn business,” and that retraction notices were issued “to inform our readers that the article is retracted," but "the public doesn’t need to know the details".
Retraction Watch has demonstrated that retractions are more common than was previously thought. When Retraction Watch was launched, Marcus "wondered if we’d have enough material". It had been estimated that about 80 papers were retracted annually. However, in its first year, the blog reported on approximately 200 retractions. Retraction Watch has garnered praise as useful to aspiring scientific journalists or people interested in the issue of accuracy."
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