Shold citations be censored? (comment)

Margaret DeLacy's picture


As a follow-up to the discussion on women and power (following up from "sexual harassment"), the website "Retraction Warch" has a discussion about a controversy created by the journal "Nature, Ecology and Evolution."  The Journal published a list of responses to a list of "essential reading" from a previous issue.  One of the responses complained that the list was heavily biased in favor of white male authors. Before printing that response, the journal's editors asked its authors to remove a footnote citing an article from the journal Science concerning sexual harassment by a noted researcher in Antartica. The editors noted in their letter that their journal, unlike Science, was published in the U.K. which has different laws concerning slander.

Noting that the request was to remove a citation to an article that had been published elsewhere, Retraction Watch is asking its readers whether legal concerns "should" prevent journals from publishing citations to legitimate articles.  (Clearly these concerns are in fact inhibiting some publications in the UK).  One respondent noted that the request was for removal of a citation that had been included in a letter to the editor, not a citation included in a peer-reviewed article.

A summary of some of the other topics pursued by Retraction Watch in 2017 can be found at







It's a citation in a different journal of a previously published work, not an original statement by the author, and should not be removed.

Additionally, if the citation (and publication of the article) was published before any subsequent findings against the original published article, there has been no "bad action" by the author/article that made the citation.

Historical record and all that.

Now, since apparently the offending citation is of a reply published in response to another article, it is within Nature's (or whoever's) editorial rights to request deletions/rewritings *prior to publication* (I.e., the standard "reserve the right to "edit for length or content').

If a finding of slander is determined against the original article, however, then the original article should be modified/deleted (or, if a print publication, an editorial correction and removal from subsequent printings). In the case of the article citing the now-slanderous statement, a notation and correction should to be added. Because the other part of this is very personal -- if someone's good name has been falsely and erroneously damaged, then that falsehood follows in perpetuity via the published works that carry the false statement and the the article that cites it. (“Which office do I go to get my reputation back?” - Raymond Donovan, 1987)

Fuller and corrected historical record and all that.