Are Bulk Retractions Fair?

Why can journals jettison hundreds of articles without being specific, or paying any real price?

There have been multiple bulk retraction events over the past few years, with the most memorable perhaps the 500+ retracted by Wiley and Hindawi just over a year ago, which led to a massive devaluation of Wiley and the CEO’s ouster.

Other publishers didn’t have the market to punish them. Wiley’s travails followed 100+ papers retracted by PLOS ONE last August. IOP retracted 350 papers and then another 494 papers after an investigation found that “some papers may have been created, manipulated, and/or sold by a commercial entity.”

  • Bulk retractions were a theme in 2022, with SAGE and Elsevier also involved.
  • The reason is routinely cited as “manipulated peer review.”

The journals involved are uniformly APC-based OA journals. This is no surprise to the experienced skeptics among us — a volume-based business model incentivizes practices that pump more papers through the editorial pipeline, often beyond capacity, for the sake of feeding the bottom line.

Two initiatives have been developed to deal with the obvious, avoidable, but now entrenched downsides of the APC model — COPE guidance, and the STM Integrity Hub.

Neither of these addresses the publisher’s culpability in these schemes and the ensuing retractions.