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Retractions reflect science correcting itself: How does orthopaedics fare?

Author: Jessica Boh

Quick Summary: Between 1990 and 2016, 130 articles were retracted from high quality surgery journals, with the greatest number (20%) of retractions coming from orthopaedic and trauma surgery. The main reason for retraction was that the article was a duplicate publication (42%), followed by plagiarism (16%) and concerns about data integrity (14%). While the authors note that the frequency of retractions has increased over time, it is difficult to determine whether this is related to increased publication awareness by editors and reviewers or increased pressure to publish on researchers.

When evidence of scientific misconduct comes to light, published articles related to the misconduct are retracted in order to maintain the integrity of the literature. This misconduct could occur during the study (e.g. ethical misconduct), when preparing the manuscript for publication (e.g data fabrication, plagiarism), or in the process of getting published (e.g. duplication, copyright violation). Notably, different institutions have varying boundaries of what constitutes misconduct worthy of retraction.

Dell’Acqua Cassão and colleagues (2018) examined the nature and frequency of retracted articles from 100 high-quality surgical journals. The study identified 130 retracted articles, between 1990 and 2016, from 49 of the 100 journals examined with most journals having only one retraction. The majority of retracted articles were original research articles (82%) and the biggest proportion (26%) came from the field of orthopaedics and trauma surgery. The average time between publication and retraction was just over two years.

The most common reason given for retraction was duplicate publication (42%), followed by plagiarism (16%) and concerns about data integrity (14%). However, the authors note that duplicate publications and plagiarism are becoming a less common cause for retraction, as software has made it more easy to screen for these prior to publication.

Nevertheless, the incidence of retractions has been increasing over time. Increased awareness of questionable publications and pressure to publish are given as the most probable reasons for the increasing rate of retractions over time, yet the descriptive nature of this study makes the reported data difficult to interpret and useful conclusions to be reached. It would be interesting to know, for example, the number of retracted articles across time for each grouped cause of retraction. This would make it possible to determine whether retractions for duplication and plagiarism have reduced in more recent years as the authors suggest, as well as highlight publication issues to be more aware of when reading future publications. However, the low number of retracted publications in surgical journals means that more specific analysis of the data would be inadvisable as it could lead to big inferences being made from minor changes.

The main contribution of this journal article is thus in raising awareness of the nature and importance of publication retractions for maintaining scientific integrity. It is a reminder to critically analyse any journal articles before accepting or adopting the findings into practice, as erroneous and flawed information can still find its way into high quality publications.

For more detail, access the full article and check out Retraction Watch.


Cassão, B. D., Herbella, F. A. M., Schlottmann, F., & Patti, M. G. (2018). Retracted articles in surgery journals. What are surgeons doing wrong? Surgery.

doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2018.01.015


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