As reported by Times Higher Education the proportion of retracted papers has increased by a factor of 10 in the last two decades. According to the study the increase has been particularly pronounced in the past few years, even neglecting famous cases of scientific misconduct like falsification by the German physicist Jan Hendrik Schoen. Also, Nature published four papers this year that had to be retracted later – an unusually high number.
The reasons for the increase are probably twofold: On one hand the scientific community is considerably faster in revealing mistakes and fraud. On the other the pressure on scientists has been constantly increasing. The call for objective measurement of scientific output – resulting in impact factors, h-indices and so on – may result in untimely publishing of results that are later exposed as irreproducable.
It seems clear where the trend is going. The scientific community should be ready for it.
Read ‘A painful remedy’ in Nature, Vol. 468, page 6 published November 4th 2010
Read ‘Retractions up tenfold’ by Times Higher Education