What can a journal do if scientific fraud is suspected?

There are three specific tools that a journal may apply if errors are suspected or directly detected in a paper that has already been published. The three methods are the publications of an “erratum”, an “expression of concern”, or the article is withdrawn by the journal.

An erratum is used if there is no cheating, but rather just a simple error in the already published article. The journal will publish an erratum, and this erratum is indexed in PubMed with reference to the original article.

If the journal suspects cheating or fraud they will issue a so-called “expression of concern”. This is done by the journal and it will be a formal publication of an “expression of concern” and this will be a publication in itself and thereby indexed individually in PubMed with reference to the original article. An “expression of concern” is not a proof that there has been cheating or fraud, but simply the suspicion has been raised. The subsequent investigations can take years and an expression of concern can therefore stay for a long time before it either leads to withdrawal of the article or retraction of the published “expression of concern”, i.e. that the problem has been solved.

If cheating or fraud has been proven with certainty, then the journal will choose to withdraw the article from publication. The original article will be formally published and included in PubMed, but in PubMed it will be marked with the words “retracted article” and it is explained why the article is withdrawn. Articles may be withdrawn for reasons other than fraud and one must therefore look behind the text and read why it has been withdrawn.

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© 2016 by Jacob Rosenberg