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Why unethical papers should be retracted


The purpose of retracting published papers is to maintain the integrity of academic research. Recent work in research ethics has devoted important attention to how to improve the system of paper retraction. In this context, the focus has primarily been on how to handle fraudulent or flawed research papers and how to encourage the retraction of papers based on honest mistakes. Less attention has been paid to whether papers that report unethical research—for example, research performed without appropriate concern for the moral rights and interests of the research participants—should be retracted. The aim of this paper is to examine to what extent retraction policies of academic journals and publishers address retractions of unethical research and to discuss critically various policy options and the reasons for accepting them. The paper starts by reviewing retraction policies of academic publishers. The results show that many journals do not have explicit policies for how to handle unethical research. Against this background, we then discuss four normative arguments for why unethical research should be retracted. In conclusion, we suggest a retraction policy in light of our empirical and normative investigations.

  • research ethics
  • publication ethics
  • applied and professional ethics

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