Findings of a recently published cross-sectional bibliographic analysis reveal that most citations of the 1998 research study published by Wakefield et al, which fraudulently associated the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with autism, were considered negative, however a significant number of articles did not include mention of the paper’s retraction. 

To evaluate the characteristics of the scholarly literature referencing the fraudulent article, study authors obtained cited references from a Web of Science Core Collection search. A total of 1153 cited works found in books, research articles, letters, editorials, news articles, and scholarly literature met inclusion criteria and were included in the analysis. 

Each citation was evaluated by 2 reviewers in a blinded screening that included the assignment of a characteristic as well as an indication of whether the article retraction was documented. “In the stepwise approach, citations were first screened to assess whether they fit in the categories of negative, affirmative, or contrastive; if not, they were screened for the category of persuasive; if not, citations were screened for the categories of assumptive, perfunctory, methodologic, or conceptual,” the authors explained. They added, “Whether the partial retraction or notice of retraction was included in the citing work was also documented.”

The study authors reported that of the total citations analyzed, 72.7% were negative (n=838), 9.2% were perfunctory (n=106), and 8.2% were affirmative (n=94). Results of the analysis also revealed that partial retraction was documented in 38.2% (123/322) of citations published between 2005 and 2010. The percentage of partial retractions and/or notices of retraction documented in cited works published between 2011 and 2018 increased to 71.7% (360/502) following the publication of the notice of retraction of the Wakefield et al article in 2010

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According to the findings of this study, the majority of scholarly literature referencing the Wakefield at el article do so in a negative manner, however, 28.3% of works published after 2011 did not document the retraction. “The findings suggest that improvements are needed from publishers, bibliographic databases, and citation management software to ensure that retracted articles are accurately documented,” the authors concluded.

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