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January 18, 2013

Retraction Action

Daisiesby Stefanie

My first word processor was a glorified typewriter; I could type my college papers but only see four lines at a time on a tiny screen, until I hit the print button. What came out often had mistakes that I had not caught on first (cramped) review. Luckily, I could go back, fix the mistakes, and print again. This ritual is also followed by students today, even those using newfangled computers with big screens and programs for catching errors before they are committed to paper. Still, errors sneak by, the slippery buggers.

A step or two up in the publication hierarchy, once an article has been published in a journal (i.e., once the publisher hits print), fixing mistakes becomes a lot trickier. Sometimes, if a small or easily described error is involved, an erratum or correction notice, published in a later issue of the same journal, is printed and linked to the e-version of the original article. Other times, the problems are so great that the entire article is retracted, either by the article author(s) or by the publisher. Whatever the reason for the retraction (e.g., belatedly discovered calculation or measurement errors, plagiarism, falsification of data), the intent is to remove the information from the scientific literature and thus avoid wasting the time and resources of other scientists who may attempt to replicate or rely on the already undermined results.

Yet, a retracted article can still be found, both in print and online. (The silver lining to the retraction cloud may be that there can be usefulness in serving as a bad example. However, if you are not writing specifically about the retraction, consider whether the retracted article is your best resource.) And if it can be found, it can be used as a reference, although readers should be alerted to the article’s retracted status. All of this begs the question, How should a retracted article be formatted for the reference list?

To create a reference for a retracted article, you can repurpose the parentheses found after a reference that includes original publication information, as can be seen in Examples 21 and 26 on pages 203–204 of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, sixth edition. Instead, provide the information on the article’s retraction notice in the parentheses. Examples:

Joly, J. F., Stapel, D. A., & Lindenberg, S. M. (2008). Silence 
     and table manners: When environments activate norms. Personality
     and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1047–1056. (Retraction 
     published 2012, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 
     p. 1378)
Ricaurte, G. A., Yuan, J., Hatzidimitriou, G., Cord, B. J., & McCann, 
     U.D. (2002, September 27). Severe dopaminergic neurotoxicity in 
     primates after a common recreational dose regimen of MDMA. 
     Science, 297, 2260-2263. (Retraction published September 12, 
     2003, Science, 301, p. 1454)

Additional questions? E-mail us at styleexpert@apastyle.org or leave a comment!


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