Should retractions be listed on the academic CV?

September 1, 2009

A comment on PhysioProf’s recent post about a retracted paper raises an interesting issue.

Do people list their retractions in their CVs? If so, is it career suicide? If not, would hiring committees or other panels that review CVs (like for grants or awards) go looking to see if the scientist under consideration has ever retracted a paper?

In a very large number of situations in which an academic CV is used, there is no obligation for it to constitute an exhaustive list of everything the scientist has ever done that might be considered pertinent to various sections. Inclusion of things that the person has not done is clearly fraud, however omission of things that the person has accomplished is not an issue.
Speaking to the grant review query (within the NIH in particular), note that the grant version of the CV (the NIH Biosketch) is page-limited and therefore the publications are frequently a selected subset. The purpose of the Biosketch is much as with the rest of the application-to make the best case for the application to receive a glowing review. Things to be included are those that the PI thinks are going to help with a positive review. There is no obligation to include things that might hurt the review.
One place this comes up quite frequently is the issue of prior research support. I have, at times past, looked into this quite closely and there is no obligation to list every source of research support on the application-only that which the PI feels will support his or her talents and track record of directing projects of similar scope as that proposed. This, I will note, is why the whole “Other Support” documentation (which does have to be comprehensive with respect to current fundings) exchange occurs only with the Program staff immediately prior to award. It is not an issue for review.
If the PI must select a subset of her publications because of the font and page limits, she will generally do so by prioritizing recent work that is specific to the proposal at hand. Also, by prioritizing by impact factor (yeah, I’ve seen more than one GlamourMag paper from grad school or a long-distant postdoc stint included for no apparent purpose other than to brandish GlamourMagBling). No doubt for other reasons as well.
Have a paper that is a little weak? One that you subsequently disproved? One that the field ran straight over? One that just stuck out as an avenue-not-taken? Great candidates with which to save some Biosketch space.
I would argue that a retracted paper falls into the same ethical decision tree. I know it seems to violate that pulsing need for revenge expressed by those who don’t fake and feel that there are some significant number of competitors getting away with faking data.I understand the sentiment, I just don’t see how it applies here. My understanding of the NIH application gives an emphatic no to the question- no it is not necessary to include a retracted paper.
Should it be necessary? That is the interesting question. And if so, how can we possibly outline an rationale for doing so that does not essentially require the Fullest of Monty CV be included instead of a minimalist biosketch?

No Responses Yet to “Should retractions be listed on the academic CV?”

  1. qaz Says:

    DM – at one point you say that the prior research support (part C I think it is) does not have to include all current research support? Can you point us to specific documentation on that? I thought that it had to include all support of certain forms, particularly potentially overlapping support. (Which is why people I know always put “No overlap with current project” on each listed project on that current and prior support page.)


  2. Let’s say you’re a postdoc/grad student, and one of those middle authors on the retracted paper. Chances are you contributed one panel of one figure, and you didn’t do anything fraudulent/shoddy with your data. What should those people do (there are more middle authors than first & senior authors) on their CVs? They’re not submitting biosketches – they’re sending a full CV for their prospective faculty position or prospective postdoc. I’d hope they end up with the benefit of the doubt, but leaving off the paper makes it look like you’re trying to hide something, instead of trying to distance yourself from a nasty situation.


  3. cookingwithsolvents Says:

    In a full CV for an academic position I have to believe that the unfortunate candidate should head up the entry with [i]retracted[/i]* at the end of your publications I would have something like:
    *The author’s contribution to this work was xxxx. Problems with yyyyy lead to a retraction on 00/00/0000. (ref to retraction statement)
    The more experienced may correct me but I wholeheartedly believe in confronting these kinds of problems head on. Some people might miss that you omitted a retraction but I wouldn’t count on it. I’d also have an extra reference letter from the institution where the retracted work happened that can attest to your integrity as a person and scientist (and maybe go into more detail about the situation).


  4. whimple Says:

    Note that retraction is not an admission of wrongdoing. I would omit both the retracted paper (since it doesn’t exist anymore) and the retraction from a CV. Presumably the NIH, in its wisdom, has already meted appropriate justice for any malfeasance.


  5. DSKS Says:

    “Note that retraction is not an admission of wrongdoing.”
    Precisely. If a retraction is associated with an investigation that subsequently proves wrongdoing, chances are it won’t matter whether you flag it in your CV or not; you’ll have bigger problems than can be hidden on an unofficial document that exists for the sole purpose of selling the author’s successes anyway.
    I’m against full voluntary disclosure partly because it goes against the well-respected moral philosophy that underlies such legal protections as the 5th Amendment, and partly because it’s quite clear that the judgment of some scientists is impaired by either “a pulsing need for revenge” or axes wanting of grinding.
    It seems to me that insisting that somebody cast suspicion on themselves, regardless of whether they actually committed a crime, will not lead to any justice in the conventional sense; just a lot of finger-pointing, smear, and innuendo, and there’s enough of that in certain parts of the scientific community as it is.


  6. DrugMonkey Says:

    Actually qaz this is pretty easy to find with a quick look at the application instructions for the NIH proposal / forms. But you are in very good company, I think this is a commonly misunderstood section of the Biosketch.


  7. Pain Man Says:

    A retraction is a retraction. It doesn’t exist. Just like other non-existent publications, it isn’t listed on a CV. What am I missing?


  8. DrugMonkey Says:

    Revenge, PainMan, REVENGE!!11!!!!!
    Srsly though, do you think they should be scrubbed from Medline and removed from journal servers? If not, why should it not be on the CV?


  9. Pain Man Says:

    I’d try to remove it from existence entirely to the extent I could, and just replace it with an electronic tombstone with an epitaph describing exactly what the problem was.
    I think the punishment track should be a separate dimension altogether (separate from the malignant manuscript/data, an HR matter if you will) that has nothing to do per se with the sanctity of the scientific record itself.


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