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What happens to your career when you have to retract a paper?

In response to our recent post on retractions, Josh Krieger sends along two papers he worked on with Pierre Azoulay, Jeff Furman, Fiona Murray, and Alessandro Bonatti. Krieger writes, “Both papers are about the spillover effects of retractions on other work. Turns out retractions are great for identification!”

Paper #1: “The career effects of scandal: Evidence from scientific retractions”

Paper #2: “Retractions”

I’ve not looked at these papers in detail but they should be of interest to some of you.

P.S. I’ve issued 4 corrections to published papers (go here and search on Correction). The errors were serious enough that 2 of these could’ve been retractions. My career’s still going ok, but to the extent it has been harmed by the corrections, that would be fair enough—after all, my career benefited from the earlier publication of these erroneous claims.

13 Comments

  1. Mark Pawelek says:

    Today Benjamin Sovacool is Professor of Energy Policy (SPRU), Lead Author for IPCC AR6, due 2022 and Energy Advisor to the European Commission. In July 2016 he published a paper claiming “Pro-nuclear countries make slower progress on climate targets (AKA CO2 emissions reductions)”. The data supporting it was junk. It was retracted within months. His career is doing fine. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616

  2. AV says:

    On another hand,

    I wish it were possible to retract for the mere reason that the work has proven to be gibberish – in hindsight.

    If such reasons for retraction were accepted, there would always be at least reasonbale doubt about the circumstances of any retraction & many more of them, methinks. High time to shift some burden of judmenet from the reading (peer review incl) to the writing side.

  3. Ivan Oransky says:

    Those two are interesting studies. As you’d imagine, we’ve covered them as they came out. Another interesting one: https://retractionwatch.com/2013/11/07/doing-the-right-thing-scientists-reward-authors-who-report-their-own-errors-says-study/

  4. Conti says:

    Considering the anti-true/false stance you often take, I’m inclined to think less about “erroneous” vs “non-erroneous” papers. The idea of retracting some papers as having errors, as though the other ones somehow made no mistakes, seems backwards to me. Thinking continuously, how much less valuable to the research community are your erroneous pre-corrected papers than your other ones?

    • Andrew says:

      Conti:

      You can read the correction notices. I’d say that two of the corrections are so serious that the original papers are essentially useless. The other two corrections are more minor, and I think both those papers are still good. As to my other published papers: their value to the research community varies. Some have been very valuable, others have served minor but real functions, others have not turned out to be very useful to anyone, in retrospect.

      • Phil says:

        I still feel like ‘morphing’ is The Big One that Got Away: a great idea for which we just didn’t develop a good enough implementation, nor provide quite enough motivation. This has ‘not turned out to be very useful to anyone’ but it should be!

  5. Zad Chow says:

    Well, the obvious answer is that your entire scientific career is over and you should never consider publishing again because scientists do not make mistakes.

  6. Sam says:

    I don’t think having a couple of retractions or corrections is or should necessarily be a mark of shame. What should make us wonder is how you can get 50-100 papers or so and not have a single correction or retraction. In all of those papers, there really isn’t a false positive result? In 100 papers, someone didn’t accidentally mislabel the samples? With all of those co-authors, not one of them was dodgy in some way?

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      Agreed on both points.

      Thoughts re “With all those co-authors …”:
      I suspect that the practice of often having many coauthors can contribute to “mistakes getting through” — since there may be a tendency for everyone to think that someone else is responsible for the overall integrity of the work. The ethos of the culture needs to change to one where either everyone is responsible for checking the integrity of every aspect of the work, or where each aspect of the work is assigned to more than one person to be responsible for checking the quality of that aspect of the work. It also needs to change from “that’s the way we’ve always done it, so it’s OK” to “Is it really OK, even if that’s the way we’ve always done it?”

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        Last sentence looks not well expressed after seeing it out of the comment box. Here’s another try:

        “It also needs to change from “that’s the way we’ve always done it, so it’s OK” to “Just because that’s the way we’ve always done it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s OK.”

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