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Article proves resilient after retraction

In 2005, the scientific journal Chest, from the American College of Chest Physicians, published an article by surgeon Wataru Matsuyama of Kagoshima University, Japan, sharing the results of a clinical trial that suggested omega-3 polyunsaturated fats had a positive effect on patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As the result of an investigation into Matsuyama’s published work, the article was retracted in 2008 for including falsified data—another 17 papers by the author have been retracted in recent years due to misconduct. Twelve years after it was retracted, however, the omega-3 article is still regularly cited by other scientific articles as if it were valid.

In a paper published in the journal Scientometrics on October 14, researchers from the University of Illinois, USA, and the University of Adelaide, Australia, traced the path of the fraudulent article. They found 35 other papers that directly cited it between 2010 and 2019 without mentioning the retraction. They then mapped out what they called “second-generation citations,” which mentioned the beneficial effects of omega-3 in patients with lung disease but rather than referring directly to Matsuyama’s work, they cited one of the 35 papers that did. They found 152 references in review articles, nutritional guides, and other texts. Although the archived copy of the paper in the journal Chest has an explicit warning that it was retracted, the statement is not included in several databases that contain the fraudulent article’s abstract. “Although limited to evaluation of a single case, this work demonstrates how retracted research can continue to spread,” concludes the article in Scientometrics.