Dynamics of Cross-Platform Attention to Retracted Papers

by   Hao Peng, et al.

Retracted papers often circulate widely on social media, digital news and other websites before their official retraction. The spread of potentially inaccurate or misleading results from retracted papers can harm the scientific community and the public. Here we quantify the amount and type of attention 3,851 retracted papers received over time in different online platforms. Comparing to a set of non-retracted control papers from the same journals, with similar publication year, number of co-authors and author impact, we show that retracted papers receive more attention after publication not only on social media, but also on heavily curated platforms, such as news outlets and knowledge repositories, amplifying the negative impact on the public. At the same time, we find that posts on Twitter tend to express more criticism about retracted than about control papers, suggesting that criticism-expressing tweets could contain factual information about problematic papers. Most importantly, around the time they are retracted, papers generate discussions that are primarily about the retraction incident rather than about research findings, showing that by this point papers have exhausted attention to their results and highlighting the limited effect of retractions. Our findings reveal the extent to which retracted papers are discussed on different online platforms and identify at scale audience criticism towards them. In this context, we show that retraction is not an effective tool to reduce online attention to problematic papers.


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