HIGH-level research activity is certainly one of the hallmarks of developed nations, for it fuels innovation, drives technological advancements, and contributes to solving global challenges, like healthcare and climate change. Unfortunately, Pakistan is not among such countries, and lack of research (or should one say, original research?) is one of the reasons for lagging behind the developed world, and even some developing countries that are far better in the context of research.

A recent research paper in Nature, one of the top research journals in the world, tells us why Pakistan has been struggling in the field. The journal reported Pakistan has the second-highest rate of retractions for scientific papers. In reality, this is part of a global trend where retraction rates are rising. For example, the rate of retracted biomedical science papers in Europe increased from 11 per 100,000 in 2000 to 45 in 2020.

Retractions are official notices that a published paper has been withdrawn, usually because of errors or misconduct, like plagiarism, fake data, or breaking ethical rules. These findings were first published in the journal Scientometrics and later covered by Nature. It was found that 67 per cent of the papers were retracted due to misconduct, while honest errors accounted for about 16 pc of the retractions. Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain had the highest numbers of retracted papers.

As such, there is a serious concern that universities lack clear rules for handling situations where a candidate’s PhD dissertation is retracted. For instance, if a candidate, say, earns a PhD degree with just one paper published in a recognised category, for example ‘W’ category as defined by the Higher Education Commission (HEC), and that paper is later retracted, will the PhD degree be revoked?

Similarly, atthe time of promotion to higher academic ranks, such as associate professor or full-scale professor, research papers are essential. If a faculty member is promoted based on their publications, and one of their papers is later retracted, this could reduce their number of eligible papers, potentially making them ineligible for the promotion. In such cases, will their promotion be revoked?

In the same vein, the number of published papers is crucial for prestigious fellowships, research grants, gold medals in specific fields, and national honours. If a paper is retracted, how will this be handled? Will retracted papers be considered in these situations, and what impact will this have on the awards and honours already given? This issue needs to be addressed to maintain the credibility of these recognitions.

These are crucial points that need to be addressed to maintain the integrity of academic standards. Without clear policies on handling retracted papers, the credibility of academic achievements and awards could be compromised. This is why it is essential to have rules in place to address these issues promptly and fairly.

Dr Waseem Hassan
Peshawar

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2024

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