Journals retract more than 300 scientific papers on covid! - Retraction Watch has been diligently monitoring the retractions and withdrawals of scientific papers pertaining to COVID-19 as part of their comprehensive database. They maintain an updated summary list to provide a reliable resource. Retraction Watch acknowledges the significance of contextual information by referring readers to specific sources, including a relevant post, a letter in Accountability in Research, and a section in a Nature news article.
Since April 2020, the list has been steadily expanding. It is important to note that the list does not differentiate between withdrawal and retraction. This is because some journals, in an attempt to avoid providing explanations for retractions, choose to blur the distinction between the two. Such practices sometimes lead to papers vanishing without a trace. As of now, the list encompasses 330 retracted papers and 19 expressions of concern.
Gunnveig Grødeland, a senior researcher at the Institute of Immunology at the University of Oslo, highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed compromises in ethical standards among researchers. Some have sought to gain more publications approved or taken shortcuts that bypass ethical considerations.
While it is understandable for articles to be updated or transformed for publication in different formats, certain retractions have occurred due to researchers failing to obtain informed consent during their studies.
Grødeland emphasizes that other articles have been withdrawn when editors realized that the strategies mentioned within them were being mistakenly interpreted in the media as recommended treatments or preventive measures for COVID-19. These articles had to be withdrawn because they made claims that neither the authors nor their affiliated institutions could validate.
Even prominent journals like The Lancet have published such articles. Notably, a study in The Lancet prompted both the World Health Organization and national governments to halt comprehensive testing of hydroxychloroquine's efficacy against COVID-19. This extensive study, later accused of research fraud, falsely claimed that the drug increased the risk of heart arrhythmia and mortality among COVID-19 patients.
The majority of retracted papers, however, originate from smaller and less influential journals. For instance, a study published in the International Journal of Audiology in 2021 reported around 60 studies indicating audio-vestibular problems in individuals with confirmed COVID-19. It suggested an association between COVID-19 and hearing loss, tinnitus, and vertigo. However, the researchers have now retracted their assumption after publishing a subsequent study two years later at the University of Manchester, concluding that hearing loss is unlikely to be caused by COVID-19.
One retracted paper published in Science examined the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in South Africa. It was withdrawn after social media users pointed out potential false positives among the samples used.
Another paper retracted by the editor of ScienceDirect was based on the clear evidence that the findings were unreliable. The paper erroneously concluded that the majority of reported COVID-19 deaths were actually due to other underlying conditions. However, external reviewers from ScienceDirect discovered that the authors had misinterpreted data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leading to their misleading conclusion.
According to the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), the volume of research on COVID-19 has far surpassed that of other viral disease outbreaks in the 21st century by a significant margin. In a recent report, ISI analyzed approximately 190,000 scholarly publications from 2000 to 2022, encompassing five pandemics. The analysis revealed that in 2020, nearly 28,000 papers were published on COVID-19, followed by approximately 68,000 papers in both 2021 and 2022. In comparison, the second-highest spike in research publications occurred during the H1N1 pandemic, with around 1,300 papers published in 2011.