In June 2020, in the biggest research scandal of the pandemic so far, two of the most important medical journals each retracted a high-profile study of COVID-19 patients. Thousands of news articles, tweets, and scholarly commentaries highlighted the scandal, yet many researchers apparently failed to notice. In an examination of the most recent 200 academic articles published in 2020 that cite those papers, Science found that more than half—including many in leading journals—used the disgraced papers to support scientific findings and failed to note the retractions.
COVID-19 “is such a hot topic that publishers are willing to publish without proper vetting,” even in the face of retractions that made global headlines, says Elizabeth Suelzer, a reference librarian at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has written about problematic citations to a retracted 1998 study in The Lancet falsely linking vaccination to autism.
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