Q: Should a published article with text plagiarism be retracted or corrected through an erratum?

Detailed Question -

There is a published article (article 1) with some plagiarised text in the introduction, discussion and abstract. The study design is similar to the article 2 (from which the text was copied but the study setting and the outcomes seem authentic as there is no duplication of data. But article 1 has not cited/ acknowledged the article 2. The author of the article 2 has raised the issue of plagiarism and has asked for an errata and wants article 2 to be cited. Should this article 1 be retracted or "corrected and republished"?

1 Answer to this question

The COPE retraction guidelines explain in detail when to issue a retraction:

Journal editors should consider retracting a publication in the following cases:

  • If there is clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
  • If the findings have previously been published elsewhere without cross-referencing, permission, or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
  • If the paper contains plagiarized content
  • If the article reports unethical research

As per these instructions, the article should ideally be retracted since it contains plagiarized content. 

However, the same guidelines also make the following observation about the purpose of retraction:

Retractions are also used to alert readers to cases of redundant publication (i.e. when authors present the same data in several publications), plagiarism, and failure to disclose a major competing interest likely to influence interpretations or recommendations.

The main purpose of retractions is to correct the literature and ensure its integrity rather than to punish authors who misbehave.

In this case, the study results are reliable and authentic and there is no duplication of data. Therefore, the journal editors should carefully evaluate whether the article should be allowed to be corrected and republished in the interests of science (of course, with a warning to author 1 and intimating his/her institution) or whether it should be retracted.

Journal editors should follow COPE guidelines and flowcharts to understand how to deal with common types of suspected misconduct and seek the advice of COPE in cases where they are not sure of the action to be taken. 

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