After 24 February 2022, a situation has arisen in Russia in which legal requirements and legal enforcement practices may directly conflict with the norms of academic freedom and scientific integrity.
In these circumstances, some Russian journals take the path of self-censorship by retracting articles whose publication (in the view of the editors) could lead to sanctions from the state. A new wave of such retractions is associated with the effect of Federal Law of Russia No. 217471-8 «On Amendments to the Federal Law ‘On Information, Information Technologies and the Protection of Information’ and Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation (as regards the prohibition of propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships and/or preferences)». The Council points out to the fact that scientific research may not be equated with propaganda and is bound to state that in these cases the retraction mechanism is used without convincing grounds. The purpose of retraction of scientific articles is to correct errors and reduce scientometric biases.
It is important to understand that what the editorial boards occasionally call retraction is not retraction. Self-invented wording («Publication of research in violation of the standards», etc.) in fact turns out to be self-censorship. Such and similar actions (deletion, concealment, withdrawal of publications) are irrelevant to maintaining the ethics of scientific publications, the integrity of scientific knowledge, and good scientific practice.
We believe that the safety of journal staff and authors and the continuation of scientific publications in the current circumstances are important, so we understand their compelled action, to the very desire to avoid reprisals, but not to the distortion of ethical principles and publication procedures.
In terms of international practice, in similar circumstances, publishers may be advised to refer to the well-known legal formula of Gustav Radbruch.
The Council on Publications Ethics, together with foreign partners, is currently looking for options allowing Russian journals to resolve this difficult situation with dignity, and asks that no precipitate decisions be taken.
We ask everyone to consider that Article 54 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that the law establishing or aggravating liability has no retroactive force. No one can be held liable for an act which was not an offence at the time it was committed.
The Council deeply regrets this situation and is always ready to provide the necessary support.