How To Write A Retraction

December 11, 2008

From this week’s Nature:

Portions of the work repeated with respect to abscisic acid (ABA) binding have revealed errors in the calculations associated with Fig. 1, with the result that the molar ratio of ABA bound to FCA is substantially lower than claimed. There are also difficulties with the data in Fig. 2a, b that arose from the preparation of FY. We conclude that there is no effect of ABA on the FCA-FY interaction, and therefore requested to retract this paper on 14 July 2008. See the Brief Communication Arising in this issue.

See how easy it is to explain what is wrong with the data, but without attributing blame or personal responsibility?

No Responses Yet to “How To Write A Retraction”

  1. Physiogroupie IV Says:

    Still, that sucks.


  2. Dave Says:

    It’s a brilliant retraction. I had a conversation about exactly this topic with a Nature editor a while back. The editors loved the idea of more informative retractions — they actually ADD value to the original paper, which despite the retraction is still part of the literature forever. The problem is that many people see a retraction as a ‘badge of shame’ rather than an addendum/corrigendum, and so try to avoid/minimize it. Or are forced into the retraction. My guess is that, going forward, we’ll be able to separate the honest mistakes from the fraud by simply surveying the amount of helpful detail in the retraction.


  3. Dave Says:

    I should add that this retraction also probably led to TWO apparent Nature pubs on the C.V., since the retraction/correction is listed as a matters arising. Previously, one had to do this by writing an introduction with the phrase “This finding, however, has been controversial…” or “…, however, is inconsistent with [whatever poor sucker tried to replicate the finding and could only get the divergent data published in a minor journal].”
    Whatever. Colleagues and the dept head and dean and grant reviewers see TWO nature pubs on the CV, and think it’s awesome. No one actually reads the papers.


  4. I think this is a great example of making knowledge available without pointing the finger at any individual. The information is valuable to people who would seek to use the data for the design of their own experiments and I commend the senior authors for not assigning blame…It would be nice to see this done more often.


  5. me Says:

    A retraction, by definition, assigns blame and points a finger….at sloppy researchers, sloppy PI, sloppy reviewers.


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