The speed in producing information and the rush to publish scientific articles on COVID-19 in several knowledge areas have resulted in what is known as an infodemic also in the scientific field, potentially producing inaccurate information and sources of misinformation at scholarly communication.
This has led to some articles being retracted or withdrawn due to unintentional errors or deliberate misconduct, but they continue to be cited. The article (i) gives an overview of the COVID-19 retracted articles and preprints, and (ii) analyses a set of post-retraction citations in the context of the COVID-19 infodemic. We analyzed 56 retracted articles and preprints by using the list available in the section on “retracted coronavirus (COVID-19) papers” in the Retraction Watch (RW) webpage. They found that 64.3% of these retractions were articles published in journals, 33.9% were uploaded in preprints servers, and 1.8% conference papers. We also analyzed 162 eligible articles out of 612 records identified by using the Google Scholar search engine.
This research found that an article from The Lancet continued to be cited even after being retracted. In this case, we identified 214 post-retraction citations, of which 38% were negative (n=81), 32% were neutral (n=69), and 30% were positive citations (n=64).
In summary, analyzed 56 retracted articles and preprints under the COVID-19 research and found that 64.3% (n= 36) of these retractions were articles published in journals, 33.9% (n= 19) were uploaded in preprints servers, and 1.8% (n= 1) conference paper. Our analysis identified the prevalence of retraction in multi-authored articles characterized by the complexity of multidisciplinary and multi-institutional collaborations mainly in the field of medicine and its specialties.
Based on the verifications presented here, we can conclude that this informational epidemic, known as infodemic, is also present in the scientific sphere. Concerning about the reasons for retraction, the lack of transparency in the retraction notices is still a matter of concern. In 17 of the 36 analyzed articles, the reasons that led to the retraction are unknown, characterized by the text “Reason not disclosed”. The same occurs for the preprints, with the recurrence of the term “reason not disclosed” in 6 of the 19 preprints retracted from the analyzed corpus.
They also analyzed 214 post-retraction citations in 162 articles. Of these, we found 81 negative citations (38%), 69 neutral citations (32%), and 64 positive citations (30%). The prevalence of the negative and neutral post-retraction citations can indicate that Academia is aware of the dynamics of scientific publications, they are not spreading misinformation, and in a sense, they are shielded from political interferences.