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I'm looking through a few journal articles and I notice that they have cited an article that has been retracted (based on invalid conclusions).

If I cite that article that cited the retracted one, would that be valid? Moreover, should I check the references of every article in that article to see if they cite any retracted articles?

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When you cite an article it does not mean that your work stands on the cited article in its entirety but rather it might be a particular result, an interpretation or an interesting question someone else has come up with before you.

Let look at it like this:

  • you (Y) cite a finding (f1) by a person/group in some paper (P1),
  • who in turn cites another finding (f2) some other person/group in some paper (P2).
  • later turns out that something in P2 does not add up and the paper gets retracted.

The interesting question is whether or not the mistake or error etc in P2 is related to your work. If:

  • scientific grounds for f2 is still valid despite the error that causes the retraction, or
  • your f1 is independent of f2

then you are essentially safe, since the reasons for retraction does not reflect on your work/findings. In other words, you have not built your work on erroneous foundation.

That beings said, I can only assume that citing a retracted paper isn't particularly nice, and if you can avoid it (if someone else has also mentioned that same finding without going through the retracted paper) then it's probably better.

Hope this wasn't all too convoluted.. I had to rewrite it a couple of times already :)

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    I disagree that you should avoid papers citing retracted papers if possible (assuming that the citing paper was submitted before the other was retracted). There are numerous reasons why one could cite a paper that later gets distracted, which do not lower the value of their work. Avoiding citing a paper just because it cites a retracted paper is all but fair. – Wrzlprmft Oct 19 '14 at 7:13
  • @Wrzlprmft I agree, but prejudice still exists. It is very plausible that retraction of a paper has no direct relationship with your work, but some people might not go the extra mile to figure that out. That's all I am saying, really... – posdef Oct 20 '14 at 10:16
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Ultimately, it doesn't depend on the retracted article, but on the one that you cite. Is the science in the article that you cite valid, despite the retraction of its reference? After all, most references are for context not critical dependencies. If it's still valid, there is no problem with the citation. If the science doesn't stand, though, then it doesn't stand and you shouldn't cite it.

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    ...unless you're pointing out that the science doesn't stand, in which case you must cite it. – JeffE Oct 18 '14 at 14:39
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    @JeffE: you are absolutely right. I forgot that case... – jakebeal Oct 18 '14 at 14:41

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