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Thank you for your comments and feedback. Here we clarify the main scientific points raised.
The retractions in this study span subject areas across the publisher’s portfolio of journals. Where multiple reasons for the retraction were given, the main over-arching reason why the retraction occurred was described. We clearly note in the paper that, in 13 cases of retraction there were two reasons given and in one case three reasons were given. The premise of the study was to look at reasons why published retractions occurred and if they adhered to COPE guidelines.
The study period was from 2000-2015 and did not include an analysis of any retractions which took place in 2016. Our analysis includes full articles, not abstracts published as supplements in journals.
BioMed Central’s Editorial Policy page (http://www.biomedcentral.com/getpublished/editorial-policies) contains details of our retraction policy and information on COPE membership.
Thank you for flagging that some retractions have been displayed as errata. This was not the case when the retractions were published and has only come about recently due to system updates to our websites. This has now been resolved.
BioMed Central as a Publisher is a member of COPE, as well as all individual BioMed Central journals.
All BioMed Central’s research articles are available as we are an...
All BioMed Central’s research articles are available as we are an open access publisher and started publishing articles in late 1999/early 2000 onwards. We felt that the most complete time frame to study retractions was the timeframe from January 2000 to December 2015 as this allowed 15 years of complete data to be included. There were no retractions in 2000-2002 so there were no retractions to report.
The retractions were not cited because they represent our ‘data’ and are all available in Supplementary File 1.
We stated that both authors were employed by BioMed Central. MKK is also a co-Editor-in-Chief of the BioMed Central Journal Research Integrity and Peer Review, this journal was launched in May 2016 after completion of this study (and did not feature in the analysis so does not merit a conflict of interest in that sense).
During the time frame of this study retractions were overseen by various individuals in editorial roles. The Research Integrity Group was formed in October 2014 and is now responsible for handling retractions at BioMed Central.
The earlier pre-publication history for an earlier version of the manuscript that was rejected is now available, including original reviewer’s comments (see Editor’s note http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/11/e012047.responses#note-from-the-edit...).
Regarding the competing interest statement of the first author, the sentence:
“Since the manuscript has been revised ECM has been co-opted as a COPE Council Member, but this study did not involve COPE”
refers to the fact that an earlier version of the manuscript was submitted (July 2015) before ECM was co-opted onto COPE Council (January 2016).
Please note that the published version of the article was a resubmission of an earlier manuscript that was rejected by BMJ Open. The prepublication history has now been updated and includes the peer review of both submissions along with all versions of the manuscript.
Initially the prepublication history of only the second submission was included. We apologise for this error and any confusion caused.
I have read with great interest this paper about retractions in journals of publisher BioMed Central (Moylan & Kowalczuk 2016). I noted an issue with the competing interests statement of the first author. I have contacted you for a copy of her ICMJE disclosure form. You responded with an invitation to submit an eletter. I present in this eletter: (i) a review of the paper, (ii) backgrounds about the...
I have read with great interest this paper about retractions in journals of publisher BioMed Central (Moylan & Kowalczuk 2016). I noted an issue with the competing interests statement of the first author. I have contacted you for a copy of her ICMJE disclosure form. You responded with an invitation to submit an eletter. I present in this eletter: (i) a review of the paper, (ii) backgrounds about the issue with the competing interests statement.
1.1 Introductory comments.
The paper documents 134 retractions published in the period 1 January
2000 - 31 December 2015 (the study period). The paper is easy to read and
to understand. The attached peer review history provides valuable
backgrounds and lists details which I was unable to find in the paper.
This attachment is towards my opinion not part of the paper. The details
in supplementary file 1 show that information about retractions from
outside the field of medical research is included. This is not mentioned
in the text. It is not listed in section 9 in supplementary file 2 that
bias is introduced because only one reason is reported for retractions
with multiple reasons for the retraction. This section 9 lists no details
on bias (in the number of retractions) caused by legal actions, for
example to prevent retractions (Elia et al. 2014). McCook (2016) reports
about a retraction in September 2016 in a BioMed Central journal of an
author who took such legal actions.
The main aim of the paper is 'to determine how transparent notices
were in terms of reason for retraction and information provided, and if
they complied with the COPE guidelines'. This was mostly the case. A
single event took place in the first half of 2015. This event refers to
the retraction of 43 papers (32%) with organized attempts to manipulate
the peer review process. This event limits at the moment a solid analysis
of trends (in the course of the years). An (irregular) occurrence of
events might well be a natural phenomenon, comparable to for example
strong effects of a severe winter on the annual mortality of the
Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus (Camphuysen et al. 1996).
The authors have used the search engine of the publisher, with 'the
search term "retraction" within the article title', to locate the
retractions. Using this search engine on 21 December 2016 revealed a note
with a doi which is not listed in supplementary file 1 (Anonymous 2012a).
The note contains two words ('abstract withdrawn'). The pdf version states
that it was published in a different journal (Anonymous 2012b). The note
refers to abstract 15, one of the 26 abstracts of lecture presentations at
a conference. The concatenated pdf (Zheng et al 2012) lists that only
abstract 15 was published in Scoliosis. Moylan & Kowalczuk (2016)
don't mention a definition for the term retraction. It is therefore unsure
if this note falls within their definition.
1.2 Remarks about the retraction policy.
The authors state: 'all BioMed Central journals have an overarching
retraction policy to retract articles where necessary so as to maintain
the integrity of the published literature'. That's almost all what I was
able to find about the retraction policy of the publisher and/or of its
journals. The authors mention several recommendations and proposals for
improvement. The paper provides not much insight how many of them are
already implemented. A timetable when all will be implemented is
The authors state in a response to reviewer 2: 'it has been BioMed
Central policy to publish all retraction notices as a separate retraction
article type, so they all start with "Retraction: xxxx".' Ten retraction
notes in BioMed Central journals are listed in their references, three
(20, 21, 22) don't have the term 'retraction' in the title listed in these
references. The title of the html version of three of these ten (20, 22,
25) starts with 'Erratum' and does not list the word retraction.The
authors state in the methods: 'All notices were classified using the
information given in the retraction notice alone (ie, no additional
information was used)'. A response to reviewer 2 indicates that additional
information was used.
The paper does not contain information about the membership of COPE
of the publisher and/or of one or more of its journals. A response to
reviewer 3 reveals that the publisher is member of COPE. This information
is also listed at the website of the publisher (
https://www.biomedcentral.com/about/standards-and-affiliations ). This url
provides no details about the date when the publisher joined COPE and
about the membership of COPE of one or more of its journals. A search at
http://publicationethics.org/category/publisher/biomed-central yields a
list of 334 BioMed Central journals which are member of COPE. The
publisher lists at https://www.biomedcentral.com/journals-a-z that they
publish 307 journals. The data on the number of journals were downloaded
on 17 December 2016. I propose that the authors sort out the
discrepancies. I propose that it is clearly state at a central entry of
the website which journals are member of COPE.
1.3 Not all raw research data are accessible.
The authors list that in total 190,514 articles were published in the
study period. I assume that this total includes articles from outside the
field of medical research. Figure 1 does not present the number of
articles for the years 2000-2002. It is not explained why these data are
not presented. The raw data for the annual number of published articles
are not listed in the text, in a table or in a supplementary file. It is
not mentioned if they are deposited in a public repository. The data
sharing statement does not list details about the availability of these
raw data and/or where they are stored.
The paper contains no details about the date when the publisher was
founded and/or started with publishing. The authors state in a response to
a comment of reviewer 3: 'BioMed Central first started publishing in
1999/2000.' There are no details about what was published in the year
1999. Supplementary file 1 lists that the first retraction was published
on 3 March 2003. This information seems not in line with a quote in
supplementary file 2 ('examine all BioMed Central retraction notices since
retractions started being published at BioMed Central from 2000 onwards').
The authors state: 'four retraction notices were not included because they
were published by other publishers before the journal was transferred to
BioMed Central'. Details are lacking. I propose that the authors provide a
table with the annual number of articles for the years 1999-2015 and
references for the four retractions.
1.4 Citations of retraction notes.
The authors state that 'retraction notices are rarely if ever cited'
and suggest 'readers are unaware of the article's retraction' as
explanation. The references of their own paper list 10 of the 134
retractions. It is not explained why only 10 are mentioned. For example
Klauer & Singmann (2015) refer to both the paper and the retraction. A
lack of research papers about retractions with (almost) no retraction
notes in their list of references is a plausible explanation why there are
(as yet) almost no (formal) citations of the retraction notes. Elia et al.
(2014), a paper of reviewer 2, documents for example 79 retractions. Not a
single one is listed in the references, although the paper is published in
a journal without restrictions on length and size and on the amount of
references. I propose that future studies on retraction notes will list in
the references all retractions, including retractions which were excluded
1.5 Some minor remarks.
The pdf version has no hyperlink to the doi of eight references (12,
20, 21, 29, 37, 39, 42 and 43). The doi of ref 30 is broken, ref 43 was
published in July 2015. Ref 1 is published as article with a doi in
several journals, for example as Wager et al. (2009). It is unclear why
the authors refer to a website. The last page of the pdf of Moylan &
Kowalczuk (2016) states that 'this article cites 28 articles, 6 of which
you can access for free'. This seems to imply that this quote does not
refer to their definition of an article. There are towards my opinion 29
'articles' (ref 42 was likely not identified), only one (ref 15) was
behind a pay wall on 24 December 2016. All 28 others were free to access
on that day.
Both authors are long-term employees of BioMed Central (ECM since
2004, MKK since 2006). The paper does not list that both authors are
member (since how long?) of its Research Integrity Group (
The paper does not provide insight if the authors were involved in
processing retractions and/or in preparing texts for the retraction notes.
A comment posted on 17 September 2014 in reference 11 might indicate that
this was the case for ECM. It is not disclosed that MKK is an EiC of the
BioMed Central journal Research Integrity and Peer Review (Wager 2015).
The review of reviewer 1 contains only two words. A response from the
authors to reviewer 3 reveals that reviewer 1 has reviewed earlier
versions. Details are lacking.
1.6 Concluding comments.
The paper is a well documented study of (almost?) all retractions of
one publisher. I therefore agree with the final recommendation of reviewer
3. My comments are aimed to improve future studies about retractions. The
availability of the raw data implies that bias caused by only one reason
reported for retraction notes with multiple reasons is easy to repair. The
lack of insight in the amount of legal pressure implies that it is at the
moment not possible to assess its influence on the results. I propose that
researchers have free and unlimited access to all confidential data after
a fixed period of time.
2. The ICMJE disclosure form.
The manuscript was received on 30 March 2016. A revised version was
received on 1 September 2016. The paper was accepted on 26 September 2016.
The part with the competing interests states: 'Both authors have completed
the ICMJE uniform disclosure form and declare we are employed by BioMed
Central. Since the manuscript has been revised ECM has been co-opted as a
COPE Council Member, but this study did not involve COPE. We declare no
other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the
submitted work.' This text is identical to the text in the version of 30
I am in the possession of a biography of Dr. Moylan at the website
of COPE which was downloaded on 2 February 2016. This biography shows that
Dr. Moylan was at that moment already member of the Council of COPE. A
conflict of interest statement dated 7 January 2016 is attached to this
biography. These details are not in line with the information in the
paper. The ICMJE form of Dr. Moylan is not attached to the paper. I have
therefore asked you on 28 November 2016 for a copy of this form. You told
me the next day to look into this case. You responded on 15 December 2016
with an invitation to submit an eletter. A form was not received.
5. Data sharing statement.
The data that support the findings are available from the author.
There are no restrictions for the re-use of these data by others. Email
Anonymous 2012a. Abstract withdrawn. Molecular Neurodegeneration
7(S1):L15. doi: 10.1186/1750-1326-7-S1-L15
Anonymous 2012b. Abstract withdrawn. Scoliosis 7(S1):L15. doi:
Camphuysen C, Ens B, Heg D, Hulscher J, van der Meer J, Smit C. 1996.
Oystercatcher winter mortality in The Netherlands: the effect of severe
weather and food supply. Ardea 84A:469-492.
Elia N, Wager E, Tramer M. 2014. Fate of articles that warranted
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Klauer K, Singmann H. 2015. Does global and local vision have an
impact on creative and analytic thought? Plos One 10:e0132885. doi:
McCook A. 2016. Researcher who sued to stop retractions earns his
retractions-earns-his-8th/ (accessed Dec 2016).
Moylan E, Kowalczuk M. 2016. A retrospective cross-sectional study of
retraction notices at BioMed Central. BMJ Open 6:e012047 doi:
Wager E, Barbour V, Yentis S, Kleinert S. 2009. Retractions: guidance
from the Committee on Publication Ethics. Journal of Critical Care 24:620-
622. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2009.10.009
Wager E. 2015. Why we need a journal on research integrity and peer
research-integrity-peer-review/ (accessed Dec 2016).
Zheng H, Vassar B, Stetler C. 2012. Proceedings of the 2011
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The author was employed as regional officer by BirdLife The Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland) in 1995-2004 and was afterwards at intervals employed by Altenburg & Wymenga ecological consultants. The author is closely co-operating with the authors of Porter et al. (2015a,b). Legal representatives of three different stakeholders have contacted the author in regard to his efforts to retract Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013). COPE is one of these stakeholders.