As 2020 was the year of the pandemic, COVID-19 loomed large in the world of retractions, too. According to our tracker in early December, 39 articles about the novel coronavirus have been retracted from preprint servers or peer-reviewed journals so far—a number we’re confident will grow. (That number does not include the retraction of an article from a Johns Hopkins student newspaper claiming that COVID-19 has had “relatively no effect on deaths in the United States.”) That’s out of a total of more than 1,650 retractions catalogued to date in 2020. Here are our picks for the most significant pandemic-related retractions:
1The most spectacular flameouts involved a pair of articles that appeared in two of the world’s most prestigious medical journals. Both The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine were forced to remove articles that relied on data from a questionable firm called Surgisphere, which refused to share its results with coauthors and the editors involved. (The Lancet also retracted and replaced an editorial it had published that had cited the ill-fated paper.) Before it was discredited, the paper in The Lancet had tremendous influence, leading to the suspension of clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine. A third, influential Surgisphere study was taken down from the SSRN server at the request of a coauthor. The withdrawal of the preprint, which was about potential benefits of the antiparasitic drug ivermection, received little fanfare, let alone a retraction notice.