Updates and post-publication analyses of research papers could become more plainly visible in the research record, if a service launching today is widely adopted by publishers.
Every year, about 100,000 research papers* are updated with corrections, retractions or other revisions. But scientists may miss these version changes. They are often not well signalled online, and many researchers work from PDF files downloaded to hard disk, so would never see the change. Rather embarrassingly, this means that even retracted papers continue to be cited after they have been withdrawn.
The CrossMark system aims to solve this problem, making updates to research papers more plainly visible. It has been developed by CrossRef, a non-profit collaboration of some 3,600 commercial and learned-society publishers. The same collaboration developed the now-ubiquitous DOI system, so it has a history of creating efforts that gain widespread adoption.
The system consists of a logo (pictured) that will appear on every PDF. Clicking on the logo brings a pop-up box; clicking on its ‘Status’ tab shows Internet-connected users updates to the work, such as retractions, corrections or other notes. Scientists will also be able to sign up for alerts to changes in a research paper’s status.
But there’s also a ‘Record’ tab, in which publishers could record much more than official updates. In theory, the tab could show additional content, such as a paper’s peer-review process, publication history, funding sources and, perhaps, media coverage or download metrics.
In a Nature comment entitled ‘The research paper is not sacred’, the authors of the Retraction Watch Blog, Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, last year suggested that this feature could help the published scientific record become more self-correcting.
“It could strengthen the value and extend the imprimatur of those journals that are willing to embrace these new tools, allowing them to isolate the useful notes from the cacophony of what is available, and judge the value of a particular post-publication contribution. Readers will reward those value judgements, passing to their colleagues those papers with additional content that validates and expands on the results, rendering them particularly trustworthy. If journals aren’t willing to start reviewing and compiling additional content related to their papers, someone else will do it.”
The CrossMark system, which is paid for by participating publishers, has been pilot-tested in some 20,000 documents from 21 journals. Of those, 290 have noted updates. Today, it goes live to any publisher that wants to participate. CrossMark has a gallery of examples up on its website.
*based on estimates from Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database: about 0.7% of the papers indexed there every year are marked as revised in some way (0.02% retracted).