CORRESPONDENCE

Exorcise citations to the ‘living dead’ from the literature

University of Montreal, Canada.
Contact

Search for this author in:

Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Search for this author in:

Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway.

Search for this author in:

The continued citation of retracted papers — or ‘zombie’ publications — pollutes the scientific literature with fatally flawed studies. The problem is amplified by the common practice of accessing papers through third-party websites such as Google Scholar, ResearchGate and Sci-Hub, which generally do not link to retraction notices. We propose steps publishers could take to prevent new research from citing retracted studies.

As well as displaying retraction notices more prominently on their websites, journals should post alerts across all pages of the flawed publication. Also, prefacing the paper’s title with a notification would warn readers not to download the citation to reference-manager software.

Publishers can ensure that citations of zombie publications are caught before new papers go to press by running automated cross-checks of manuscript reference lists against the Retraction Watch database of retracted papers (http://retractiondatabase.org). Universities, too, should ensure that institutional databases are updated to include retraction notices.

Nature 558, 189 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05386-5
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the daily Nature Briefing email newsletter

Stay up to date with what matters in science and why, handpicked from Nature and other publications worldwide.

Sign Up