We examined all 208 closed cases involving official findings of research misconduct published by the US Office of Research Integrity from 1992 to 2011 to determine how often scientists mention in a retraction or correction notice that there was an ethical problem with an associated article. 75 of these cases cited at least one published article affected by misconduct for a total of 174 articles. For 127 of these 174, we found both the article and a retraction or correction statement. Since eight of the 127 published statements consisted of simply the word ‘retracted,’ our analysis focused on the remaining 119 for which a more detailed retraction or correction was published. Of these 119 statements, only 41.2% mentioned ethics at all (and only 32.8% named a specific ethical problem such as fabrication, falsification or plagiarism), whereas the other 58.8% described the reason for retraction or correction as error, loss of data or replication failure when misconduct was actually at issue. Among the published statements in response to an official finding of misconduct (within the time frame studied), the proportion that mentioned ethics was significantly higher in recent years than in earlier years, as was the proportion that named a specific problem. To promote research integrity, scientific journals should consider adopting policies concerning retractions and corrections similar to the guidelines developed by the Committee on Publication Ethics. Funding agencies and institutions should take steps to ensure that articles affected by misconduct are retracted or corrected.
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