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Propagation of errors in citation networks: a study involving the entire citation network of a widely cited paper published in, and later retracted from, the journal Nature

  • van der Vet, Paul E.1, 2
  • Nijveen, Harm3, 4
  • 1 University of Twente, Human Media Interaction Group, Department of Computer Science, Drienerlolaan 5, Enschede, NB, 7522, the Netherlands , Enschede (Netherlands)
  • 2 ZGT Academy, Ziekenhuisgroep Twente, Zilvermeeuw 1, Almelo, PP, 7609, the Netherlands , Almelo (Netherlands)
  • 3 Wageningen University, Bioinformatics Laboratory, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, Wageningen, PB, 6708, the Netherlands , Wageningen (Netherlands)
  • 4 Wageningen University, Wageningen Seed Lab, Laboratory of Plant Physiology, Droevendaalsesteeg 1, Wageningen, PB, 6708, the Netherlands , Wageningen (Netherlands)
Published Article
Research Integrity and Peer Review
Springer (Biomed Central Ltd.)
Publication Date
May 03, 2016
DOI: 10.1186/s41073-016-0008-5
Springer Nature


BackgroundIn about one in 10,000 cases, a published article is retracted. This very often means that the results it reports are flawed. Several authors have voiced concerns about the presence of retracted research in the memory of science. In particular, a retracted result is propagated by citing it. In the published literature, many instances are given of retracted articles that are cited both before and after their retraction. Even worse is the possibility that these articles in turn are cited in such a way that the retracted result is propagated further.MethodsWe have conducted a case study to find out how a retracted article is cited and whether retracted results are propagated through indirect citations. We have constructed the entire citation network for this case.ResultsWe show that directly citing articles is an important source of propagation of retracted research results. In contrast, in our case study, indirect citations do not contribute to the propagation of the retracted result.ConclusionsWhile admitting the limitations of a study involving a single case, we think there are reasons for the non-contribution of indirect citations that hold beyond our case study.

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