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January 4, 2012
The Changing Literature
The folks behind Retraction Watch (Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky) have a piece in Nature on what it's been like since they started the blog.
They note a new trend - for new data to appear when a retraction is called for (or made), but without any clarity about whether these new corroborative results have been peer-reviewed themselves. And they're absolutely right that a retraction should state exactly why the paper is being retracted; those "This paper has been withdrawn by the authors" notices are less than useless.Their experiences have them calling for a different way of looking at scientific papers in general:
". . . It is important to point out that an increase in retractions isn't necessarily a bad thing, because they correct the scientific record. But the greater visibility of papers and retractions today adds to the evidence revealing why editors need to handle retractions more transparently. In turn, researchers need to stop emphasizing the paper so much.
What is needed, instead, is a system of publication that is more meritocratic in its evaluation of performance and productivity in the sciences. It should expand the record of a scientific study past an individual paper, including additional material such as worthy blog posts about the results, media coverage and the number of times that the paper has been downloaded."
It's true that more and more of this is being done out here on the internet, in public, and in real time. (I'm glad to say that some of it is done on this site). The new Crossmark system (now being tested) might be a way to keep up with all these extensions, and link them to the original paper. Such a system would have come in very handy indeed during the "arsenic bacteria" business, during which just finding all the useful comments was a real job in itself. There are authors who will not care for this sort of thing, but when you publish a paper, you're opening the door to public comment (and criticism). It's just that now we have the tools to do that more quickly and thoroughly.
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