We present the first database-wide study on the citation contexts of retracted papers, which covers 7,813 retracted papers indexed in PubMed, 169,434 citations collected from iCite, and 48,134 citation contexts identified from the XML version of the PubMed Central Open Access Subset. Compared with previous citation studies that focused on comparing citation counts using two time frames (i.e., pre-retraction and post-retraction), our analyses show the longitudinal trends of citations to retracted papers in the past 60 years (1960–2020). Our temporal analyses show that retracted papers continued to be cited, but that old retracted papers stopped being cited as time progressed. Analysis of the text progression of pre- and post-retraction citation contexts shows that retraction did not change the way the retracted papers were cited. Furthermore, among the 13,252 post-retraction citation contexts, only 722 (5.4%) citation contexts acknowledged the retraction. In these 722 citation contexts, the retracted papers were most commonly cited as related work or as an example of problematic science. Our findings deepen the understanding of why retraction does not stop citation and demonstrate that the vast majority of post-retraction citations in biomedicine do not document the retraction.

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Handling Editor: Ludo Waltman

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