Truth and Falsehood

10,000 Retractions: A 2023 Milestone for Research Integrity?

The year we are now closing marks a new record in retractions of research papers – more than 10,000 in a single year. Reporting for Nature, Richard Van Norden provides details about this milestone in research integrity.

Does this impressive number mark progress? Or merely signal that the challenge of research integrity is enormous?

A Massive Volume of Retractions

The reason we have just seen a record year in retractions is at Wiley. The publisher acquired Hindawi in 2021. The rationale for this was all about “adding quality, scale and growth to the company’s open access publishing program.”

The quality thing? Nope, that did not go as planned. Wiley found itself with a massive challenge to clean up a costly problem with paper mills infiltrating special issues at Hindawi. The problems range from discrepancies in scope, descriptions, and data in these papers to “incoherent, meaningless, and/or irrelevant content.” That last phrase takes some time to fully appreciate.

All told, this problem has cost Wiley between $35 and $40 million in lost revenue for their fiscal year. Next year, they will be discontinuing use of the Hindawi brand. This is what you might think of as negative brand equity.

High Profile Cases

Beyond the sheer numbers at Wiley, we have witnessed some memorable cases of problems with research integrity.

In one instance, an academic star of behavioral science stood accused of falsifying data about dishonesty. After three business-school professors identified signs of data fabrication in four of Francesco Gino’s papers, all of them were retracted. She disagrees with all of this and has sued her accusers for defamation, seeking $25 million in damages. This mess is certainly one for the record books.

In another high-profile case, the President of Stanford University resigned after a review found research of his “fell below customary standards of scientific rigor and process.” Retractions ensued.

We’ve also seen interesting retractions on articles related to the boogeymen of nutrition – sugar-sweetened beverages and ultra-processed foods. Righteousness doesn’t always work out as one might expect.

All-in-all, 2023 has been a memorable year of retractions in the quest for higher standards of research integrity.

Click here and here for more on this record-setting year.

Truth and Falsehood, sculpture by Alfred Stevens, photographed by Iza Bella, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 UK

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


December 22, 2023