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Retractions of Scientific Research Papers Going Up

Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot reports on the media coverage of a new study published by the Journal of Medical Ethics which shows a disturbing trend — more and more journals are retracting journal articles they previously published.

Worse yet, nearly 32 percent of the retracted papers are not noted as retracted. “Retracted” in scientific language means that the paper has been withdrawn and should be ignored — as though it never existed in the scientific literature. Retractions generally occur because of sloppy research and errors in the data calculations, collection or statistics, or because of fraud.

Is this a trend pointing to lower quality research and sloppier methods being employed? Or perhaps that because more people than ever can read the scientific research, more mistakes are being found after publication?

4 Comments to
Retractions of Scientific Research Papers Going Up

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  1. “we can no longer reliably or generally trust research findings published in virtually any journal”.

    Absolutely. We let the “experts” make decision for us because we think they are more qualified and we trust them to decide what’s best for us. This is the mentality that has to change. Everybody needs to be a good investigator. Don’t trust something just because the source has “credentials”. You have to question MOTIVES and consider HISTORY.

  2. The numbers are alarming, but it is just the tip of an ice-berg. More so is the implication on published/on-going research which are based on these retracted/error-ridden papers. For instance, over the past 3 months, I came across two such papers, one of which was published in an exceptionally respected journal. This has been transformed into a seminal paper of sorts – having over 100 citations (most of which are positive) in four years, some of which considered this as their core paper. However, when one reads the paper twice, certain errors are glaringly evident which topples the entire validity of the interpretation. None of the papers which cited this has noticed this (yet). And there are no retractions. It is quite a scary scenario if this is applicable to a proportion of peer-reviewed published research.

  3. This is very alarming as people depend on what the “experts” are saying. With the “hope” that it is supposed to bring, research plays a very important role in our world and this news changes everything.

    If we cant trust the “experts” then who can we trust and look to for accurate information?

    I can’t remember who said it, but as it was I heard it said on a PI Institute video that perhaps academia should look outside for new ideas.

    Academia I fear has become arrogant and now showing itself as unsofisticated and most un-trustworthy.

    There is a new research and theory that is about to become known to the public that presents a radical and profound paradigm shift in the Social Sciences of which I believe Thomas Kuhn said paradigm shift was not appropriate.

    We will see in the near future what the truth is.

  4. There is no truth. not in science and not in life. Veritas filia temporis, Giordano Bruno said. The truth is a daughter of the time.
    (1) The increase of fraud has something to do with increased pressure in academia. Students who *apply* to a PhD program are expected to have publications! Applicants to assistant professor positions are expected to have 10 and more publications, and as many as possible as sole author, and in prestigious journals on top of that. Meanwhile, more people submit to those same journals and journals have higher rejection rates and/or longer publication times. And I won’t go into the potential biases of the review process, where unfortunately selfish interests, politics, and egos have become more important than the quest for knowledge.
    (2) Which brings me to why there is an increase in the *detection* of fraud. Because who says that an increase in retractions really means that there is just more fraud? It is much more likely that there was fraud all along, but that it is getting detected now for reasons that might also have something to do with the increase of pressure. That some of those papers we always thought were conducted properly, and that we have tried to build more research on but failed (some studies could never be replicated but never succeeded in getting published, which is an entirely different problem), that those papers were fabrications after all. We might never know.
    As for trust: one should not trust anybody in science (or in life), not even one’s own judgment. I bet some of the coauthors of people like Diederick Stapel thought that they can trust him.
    The damage is greater than can be imagined: damage to the scientific community, to its public appearance, but even worse, damage to the knowledge base we have. How am I supposed to delete all these fraudulent, retracted studies that have formed my thinking from my knowledge base?
    Veritas filia temporis. We have to start all over again.



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