Oransky says there’s already a mechanism in PubMed whereby people can see if a paper has been cited by other papers—a kind of trackback—and he thinks there should be a way to notify people who have downloaded a particular article when it has been retracted.

“What I’m not sure they do is have a decent mechanism for alerting people who downloaded the original paper,” he says. “There is not as much linkage as there could be.”

Marcus has special insight into how journals handle retractions, thanks to his work on the Reuben story, which resulted in a remarkable flowering of article recalls.

“… I can say that I think Dr. Steve Shafer, editor of Anesthesia & Analgesia — which was hit disproportionately hard by the Reuben fraud — has the right approach to how to respond,” he wrote. “Shafer didn’t stick his head in the sand and hope that it would all blow over. He notified his readers of the retractions, revamped his journal’s author guidelines, and has been willing to talk about the case from the first moment. In my experience, other journal editors have been much less open. I suspect this reticence stems from a fear of the ‘gotcha,’ and as an editor I can understand that. But my feeling is that openness should be the default, not the exception.”

Hopefully, Retraction Watch will nudge scientific publishers towards increased openness. At the very least, though, they will provide an invaluable service by offering layman’s translations of retractions such as this:

The authors wish to note the following: “The locus AT1g35515 that was claimed to be responsible for the cold sensitive phenotype of the HOS10 mutant was misidentified. The likely cause of the error was an inaccurate tail PCR product coupled with the ability of HOS10 mutants to spontaneously revert to wild type, appearing as complemented phenotypes. The SALK alleles of AT1g35515 in ecotype Columbia could not be confirmed by the more reliable necrosis assay. Therefore, the locus responsible for the HOS10 phenotypes reported in ecotype C24 remains unknown. The other data reported were confirmed with the exception of altered expression of AT1g35515, which appears reduced but not to the extent shown in Zhu et al. The authors regrettably retract the article.”

Not exactly a misspelled name, huh?

Correction of the Week

“An article (9 October 2009), ‘Hunger striker’s £7m Big Mac’, reported claims that Mr Subramanyam was caught secretly eating burgers while on hunger strike during the Tamil protest in London, wasting significant police costs. We now accept that there was no truth in these allegations and we and other media have agreed to pay him damages and have apologised to Mr Subramanyam for the distress and embarrassment caused.” – Daily Mail (U.K.)

Craig Silverman is the editor of RegretTheError.com and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of OpenFile.ca and a columnist for the Toronto Star.