Retracted research results can spread when a retracted paper continues to be cited, a research pair from the University of Twente and Wageningen University has found.
As the duo reports in Research Integrity and Peer Review, they conducted a case study in which they traced articles that cited a Nature paper before and after its retraction was well as articles that cite the retracted paper indirectly by citing a paper that cites it. The Nature paper, "The NAD-dependent deacetylase SIRT2 is required for programmed necrosis," was retracted after other researchers couldn't replicate one of its findings, Retraction Watch notes.
"We show that directly citing articles is an important source of propagation of retracted research results," Paul van der Vet and Harm Nijveen write in their paper. "In contrast, in our case study indirect citations do not contribute to the propagation of the retracted result."
Van der Vet and Nijveen note that their study has a number of limitations, including the high visibility of the Nature paper and its retraction, which they say may not be typical, as well as that only one of its findings may be incorrect.
"I think this study clearly demonstrates that retracted results can stay within the body of literature through the citation network," the University of Warwick's Adrian Letchford tells Retraction Watch. "I would like to know if this is a problem with every retracted paper, or just a fraction of them…This would allow us to see how common this is, and find out if it is only a problem for prestigious journals, or for every journal."