Some time ago I blogged about a fraud case in the Netherlands. The author was a well known expert in his field and published in various scientific journals. Many of his articles turned out to be based on fraudulent data and should not have been published. I briefly described the existing policies of publishers to retract information from their databases in these kind of cases.
Well, this has now happened: the Science Direct database no longer shows a number of articles of Diederik Stapel. Instead you’re warned that the article is retracted and the reason why. If you request the article itself, you will only see part of the first page.
What Elsevier did is in line with their policy. But there is another side of the coin. Other scientists based publications on the insights that Stapel described in his articles, and cited from these articles. These citations can no longer be checked via Science Direct. If, say in 20 years time, someone wants to investigate what was all the fuss about in 2012 and to study the scientific publications of Stapel, he/she will not find the original articles in Science Direct, only perhaps the censored versions. It is not likely that his own university repository did preserve the original digital article, as they only have a subscription to the Science Direct e-journal, and do not own a digital copy.
This is exactly one of the reasons why some major players are collecting the “world” digital scientific output. Organizations like LOCKSS, CLOCKS, Portico and the International e-Depot of the National Library of the Netherlands all have the mission to preserve these e-journals and their articles. In these collections one should be able to find the original articles. They will have a policy of not to delete articles once they acquired them for long term preservation. The future researcher/detective should go to one of these repositories for his/her investigation.