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I managed to successfully publish my old bachelor thesis in a good quality national journal in my country. However, I am thinking of retracting the article due to certain circumstances. First, I felt really embarrassed by the low quality research methodology used in my bachelor thesis. I only used simple correlation in my research. After it was published, I realized that the journal editor team forgot to include a reference in that article because they were rushing me throughout the editing process. I informed them about their mistake and it seems that they have done nothing to fix the problem. I became a bit annoyed because the editor team has never made this problem in the past.

I felt that it would be better for me to simply ask for retraction to solve this issue, but I am a bit afraid of negative consequences in the future. Is it okay to do this? I am really interested of entering the academic world in the future.

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    If it's a good quality journal, then your paper met their standards, and I don't see a reason to retract. Also, under most copyright agreements, that paper doesn't belong to you anymore - the publisher may or may not (in this case: may not, because it's unjustified) fulfill your wish. And about a missing reference: most journals publish errata, so that should not be a problem. Just push on them. – corey979 Aug 20 '18 at 10:49
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    You write, "[a]fter it was published, I realized that the journal editor team forgot to include a reference in that article because they were rushing me throughout the editing process," but surely only you and your co-authors are responsible for references? – user2768 Aug 20 '18 at 13:40
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    "I only used simple correlation in my research." If you were able to show your point with simple methodology, it is a strength, not a weakness! – Akavall Aug 21 '18 at 2:56
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The way to "retract" old work is to publish better work that references the old work and its errors. There should be nothing embarrassing about having found earlier errors and correcting them.

You have grown in the interim. Every active academic will likely have such an experience at least once in their career. The earliest work was done when you were, relative to now, somewhat inexperienced.

It is unlikely that they will retract the article for the reasons you give, but it is also possible that someone else will publish a better work based on your article. Your best course, I believe, is to publish it yourself.

  • 1
    This is spot on. We all grow in our career. I even look at writing from a few years ago and think 'gosh, what was I doing'. That's part of science. As you study a topic, you become more adept. Current you knows more than past you and future you will know more than current you (hopefully). – JWH2006 Aug 21 '18 at 11:47
  • Yes. OP is embarassed by the low quality research, but I see an opportunity for a "XYZ revisited - Ten Years later" paper ;) – trunklop Aug 21 '18 at 14:26
  • @trunklop, that would be very cool, but likely only appropriate if the paper turns out to be a seminal contribution, hence not low quality after all. I am actually at work on a book that in part reprises a bit of work I did in HS. Not earth shattering and not great, but it taught me a lot and (as an elementary book) might teach others something as well. It adds nothing to the theory, however. Neither the old nor the new versions. – Buffy Aug 21 '18 at 14:30
  • Einstein had an error in his thesis, which prompted him, after the error was found, to publish a correction, see On Einstein’s Doctoral Thesis. – Dohn Joe Aug 23 '18 at 12:02
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I am interested in retracting my old journal articles. Would it have any negative effects on my academic career?

Yes, it would have severe negative effects. Don't do this.

Retraction is intended for two main types of situations:

  1. The paper contains serious errors that completely invalidate its conclusions and can't be fixed just by publishing a correction.

  2. The author is guilty of serious unethical behavior: plagiarism, fake data, mistreatment of animal subjects, studies on humans without their consent, etc.

As I understand it, 1 isn't applicable here: your results aren't false, they just don't go as far as they could. And the missing reference, especially if you didn't omit it intentionally, should be fixed by a correction or addendum. And 2 certainly isn't applicable.

However, if the paper is retracted, people will assume that it was retracted for one of the above reasons, either of which would be a serious black mark for a researcher. (You might like to browse http://retractionwatch.wordpress.com/ to see what kind of company you'd be keeping.) As such, it very well might completely destroy your chances of further academic study or employment.

Moreover, a retracted paper doesn't just drop out of sight. The publisher won't take it down from their website - they'll leave it there with a big RETRACTED stamped across it. It'll continue to be found in searches, and people who find it will assume that you're guilty of 1 or 2 above. Also, there's an argument to be made that ethically, you'd have to continue listing it on your CV, marked as "retracted".

(As others have mentioned, you don't have the right to retract a paper unilaterally. The journal has to make that call, and they should only do it if there's convincing evidence of 1 or 2 above. So the whole thing is probably moot. But even so, if you ask them to retract the paper, they're likely to think that you're confessing to 1 or 2, and you don't want to give that impression, even if it's cleared up before anything happens.)

The solution for having used low quality methods in the paper is just to do better work in the future. You could, if you want and as Buffy suggests, go back and study the same question with better methods. But I don't feel you're obligated to do that - if you are interested in other topics now, feel free to do that. People don't generally judge researchers harshly just because their early papers were less than outstanding. Indeed, the fact that a paper from a bachelors thesis got published at all will be a plus. In the long run, the focus will be: how good is your best recent work?

The solution for the missing reference is, as mentioned, to keep pushing the journal to print a correction or addendum. (If their editors were responsible for dropping the reference, they should admit that in the correction.) If they won't, you can post one on your own website.

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I agree with @buffy that, from your description, you should not attempt to retract your articles. However, the question you're asking is, "Would it have any negative effects on my academic career?" and the answer is almost certainly "Yes". Although not all retractions are evidence of fraud, incompetence, or dishonesty, one of those would still be the starting assumption of people considering your CV in the future. A retracted paper would turn up in your background, and you would have to explain and justify it. Other candidates for the same position, who don't have retractions in their background, wouldn't have the same problem.

So your papers don't seem to meet the standard for retraction, and if you do retract them it will probably have at least some negative effects on your future academic career.

2

I think people are not addressing the fact that, if you only have a limited number of publications, the quality of them will haunt your job prospects... However retraction may not be a feasible solution as it might also negatively affect your relationship with the journal.

In many cases, it might even suffice to expand upon the work in another journal, or on a blog post or something. Don't worry overmuch, the publication was when you were younger.

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    If you only have a few publications and they're all mediocre, then you need to get a postdoc at a so-so university and produce some better publications before moving up. If you have only a few publications and the majority of them have been retracted, then will find it very hard to get any sort of job because people will imagine you made multiple enormous technical or ethical mistakes, in almost everything you ever touched. People are not addressing the problem you mention because retraction of the papers would make it orders of magnitude worse. – David Richerby Aug 22 '18 at 9:00
  • That's true, but the point here is that atleast people would ask you why your work was retracted. If it's mediocre they would simply reject the application. – HaoZeke Aug 22 '18 at 9:04
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    I disagree. Mediocre publications in a relevant field are still publications in a relvant field: there's a chance that you'll get an interview. With a bunch of retracted publications, there are multiple possibilities. 1) Cover letter explains that you retracted a bunch of publications for the sole reason that they were mediocre: I would reject you for being mediocre and clueless. 2) CV lists retracted publications as retracted but no explanation: I would assume repeated serious technical or ethical mistakes and reject you. 3) CV doesn't list retracted papers: if I find them (don't assume... – David Richerby Aug 22 '18 at 9:14
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    ... that people will just trust your CV), I'll reject you for lying on your application; if I don't find them, I would still rather have seen a bunch of mediocre non-retracted papers plus a couple of good ones, rather than just the couple of good ones. Seriously, retracted papers look really, really bad. Mediocre papers are just mediocre and mediocre is much better than really, really bad. – David Richerby Aug 22 '18 at 9:16
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    No. I said, and I quote, that it is clueless "that you retracted a bunch of publications for the sole reason that they were mediocre" – David Richerby Aug 22 '18 at 10:42

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