The sad state of withdrawn articles on the internet

About a month ago I listened to an interesting story on NPR. The story contained an interview with Joan Juliet Buck who authored an article in Vogue about Asma al-Assad, the first lady of Syria.  The story was published just before the horrendous crack down on protestors, and violation of human rights that is ongoing in that country.

What interested me about this story was that in reaction to the abuses, Vogue completely withdrew the article from its website. You can no longer read this article that may provide insight into a woman that many are calling on to protest the killings by her husband. An article in Atlantic discusses why this is a concern. According to their research, the only online copy of this article is on a pro-Assad website.

For all the controversy, the article’s author, former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck, did manage to spend some one-on-one time with both Asma and Bashar al-Assad, an exclusive many journalists might have killed for. Today, as the world watches for cracks in the Assad regime and in the Assad family, Buck’s interviews are an increasingly important tool for understanding the man at the top of Syria and the woman next to him.

This brings up the issue of what happens to withdrawn articles in an online world.  I first wrote about this back in 2010.  I often see this issue in the sciences. An article is retracted because of inaccurate data. It is still indexed, with a retraction note. But the article itself is withdrawn completely with no access to the original data. In the future, researchers who want to research withdrawn or retracted medical articles will no longer be able to do so, as they have been able to in the past with print journals. We lose a bit of our legacy with each withdrawal.

As a librarian I remain very concerned about withdrawal and censorship of online information by publishers because information is no longer “popular” or accurate. Rather, I believe that accompanying editorials and notes should contextualize the material for the reader.

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One Response to The sad state of withdrawn articles on the internet

  1. Susan says:

    It’s interesting to see this from a librarian perspective, archives, research, etc. From my point I can see how tempting it is to yank something from the ether. But I can see the problems it may also cause.

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