Objective: The present study expands on the findings of a previous study which reported on various characteristics of editorial expressions of concern (EEoC). The aim of the present version of the study was to examine the fate of papers that have been issued an EEoCs and the degree with which these can be identified -- in a typical literature search -- as being subject to an editorial concern.
Method: A search of the PubMed database using the phrase "expression of concern" resulted in 146 papers that had been issued an EEoC. To determine the fate of these papers, we entered the title of each flagged paper in the search feature of PubMed and also that of the home page of the respective journal in which the flagged paper had been published and noted any communications that appeared in connection with each paper.
Results: Of those papers for which an EEoC had been issued and for which follow-up information had been found, 6 (4%) resulted in corrections and another 46 resulted in retraction (32%). We could not find any follow-up information on the other 84 papers, which comprised 60% of the sample. Of these 84 papers, 33 of them (39%) had EEoCs issued within the last two years. However, 27 of the flagged papers (32%) had EEoCs that were 4 years old or older. There was little uniformity in the extent to which papers were linked to EEoCs and to subsequent corrections and retractions in both PubMed and the journal in which the concerned paper had been published. For example, we found several instances in journals in which the target paper had not been linked to the EEoC. Other target papers were not linked to available follow-up notices in the journal nor marked in a way that indicated an editorial concern. Similar patterns were observed in the indexing of target papers in PubMed.
Conclusion: The lack of consistency with which EEoCs are visible when papers appear in searches is troublesome. We urge the publishing community to follow guidelines for EEoCs similar to those suggested for retractions, http://retractionwatch.com/2015/05/21/what-should-an-ideal-retraction-notice-look-like/.