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Guide to Science Information Resources: What is a Retraction?

What is a Retraction?

Retraction Phonetic SpellingThe Oxford English Dictionary (2018) defines retraction as "the action or fact of revoking or rescinding a decision, decree, etc."  A more thorough definition is, "the action of withdrawing a statement, accusation, etc., which is now admitted to be erroneous or unjustified... recantation; an instance of this; a statement of making such a withdrawal." 

When a retraction is applied to academic or scholarly publishing, it indicates that an article was withdrawn from the publication in which it appeared after it was published.  A retraction is issued through a decision made by the publication's editorial board.

In a database search, an article may have "RETRACTED" appear before its title in its brief record.  A retraction notice may also appear in search results.  Also, the full text of a research article may be labeled, "Retracted."  Both of these indicate that an article has been retracted.  See the "Identifying Retractions" tab for examples.

Source:  Oxford University Press (2018, July).  OED online.

Identifying retracted articles.  When finding articles in a database, its brief record may indicate if it is retracted (Image 1), and the article may have a "retracted" label across its content (Image 2).  The editorial board of a publication will release a retraction notice to publicize their retraction decision (Image 3).

Image 1
Example of a Retraction in Brief List of Results

Image 2
Example of a Retracted Article

Image 3Retraction Notice

Reasons for retractions.  Retractions frequently occur because of research misconduct.  Research misconduct is defined by the National Science Foundation (2018) as one or all of the following:

  • Fabrication:  making up data or results rather than having them come from actual research, and recording or reporting them.
  • Falsification:  manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes; changing or omitting data; providing results where the research is not accurately represented.
  • Plagiarism:  using another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving attribution. 

Retractions can also occur because of dishonest or unethical behavior that does not fall under commonly accepted definitions of research misconduct.  Such behavior may include:

  • Forged authorship
  • Fake peer reviews
  • Failure to receive institutional review board approval for research on human subjects or animals
  • Legal issues:  copyright infringement or libelous content
  • Not obtaining proper permissions to use data
  • Failure to disclose a competing or potential conflict of interest that may influence interpretations or conclusions. 

Retractions do not always indicate that research misconduct or unethical actions occurred.  Articles may also be retracted for the following reasons:

  • Errors in the research.
  • Problems with its reproducibility.
  • Poor management of data from the research
  • Duplicate publishing:  being submitted and accepted in more than one publication, or due to publisher error.
  • Author(s) of published article requesting a retraction for any of these reasons.

Source: National Science Foundation (2018).  Key regulations.  Retrieved from

How can I identify retractions?

Find Retracted Articles

Find Retracted Articles

Searching Databases for Retracted Publications or Articles

In a database or Google Scholar search, try using one of these keywords in a search:

  • "Article retracted"
  • "Notice of retraction"
  • "Retracted"
  • "Retracted article"
  • "Retraction"
  • "Retraction of article"

Some databases also have the option to search for retracted, corrected, or republished articles:

  • CINAHL (Advanced Search, Publication Type):
    • Corrected Article
  • PubMed (Article Types Filter): 
    • Corrected and Republished Article
    • Retracted Publication
    • Retraction of Publication
  • Web of Science (Advanced Search, Document Types):
    • Correction
    • Correction, Addition
    • Retracted Publication
    • Retraction