Scientific Retractions on the Rise

Friday, September 02, 2011



When a paper released by a scientific journal turns out to be wrong – either due to human error or intentional fraud – the journal’s editors often will issue a retraction advising scientists to disregard the research. A recent Wall Street Journal study has found the number of such retractions to be soaring. We asked Wired Magazine science writer Jonah Lehrer what he thinks is going on.

Comments [5]

Ampublisher from Canada

<a href="" rel="dofollow" >Scientific journal</a> is an open access e-journal encompassing contents on vast spectrum of Science and Industry. It aims at disseminating original research and practical systems contribution in form of Letters, Research notes, Research papers, Supplementry articles, Review articles from Scientists, Engineers and Researchers in Scientific Labs, Industry and Academia.

Dec. 15 2011 11:18 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

O.K., see I just copied one of the above long posts and this post box (pun intended) cut it mid-sentence.

Meanwhile, this an area of reporting at which you excel; the expose of the various ways in which science, particularly medical science is corrupted today!

I like to keep going back to the autodidact Ben Franklin who gave us lightening rods, bifocals, Franklin stoves, the colonial postal system, two independent learning institutes and a journalism which became the lightening rod that fueled scientific and political revolt!

Still working on old fusion, myself.

Sep. 06 2011 11:12 PM
Paul Charles Leddy

Science is social, and if a bunch of morons decide to do science, they'll create a world of moronic truths. Those of us who don't want to live in a world filled with these "truths" have to be careful not to let the morons say what is truth. I think the past 10 years have shown this over and over. Same goes for journalism, btw.

Sep. 06 2011 12:43 AM
Tom Flanagan from 02806

YOUR PREMISE: "When a paper released by a scientific journal turns out to be wrong – either due to human error or intentional fraud – the journal’s editors often will issue a retraction advising scientists to disregard the research. A recent Wall Street Journal study has found the number of such retractions to be soaring. We asked Wired Magazine science writer Jonah Lehrer what he thinks is going on."

THE CHALLENGE: Journalists write about science in story form. Science (tends to) write about science as test cases. Scientists tend to rapidly recognize who among their peers are good "technical journalists" and then scientists share impressions of the quality of scientific writings through informal peer-review networks. HOWEVER, science writings frequentyly are carried into discussions among non-scientists, quasi-sientists, and pseudo-scientists ... by journalists who are writing for emotive audience effect more than for balanced understanding and locally usable knowledge.

I think that a good point is made for the fact that science publications represent a form of currency within the social community of corporate and academic science. In this economic realm, there are counterfits and there are folks who will shave the edges off of coins to cheat those who with whom they pass their coins. Science writing can also be viewed as an artistic expression, where the creator feels and conveys a strong sense of access upon a mystery.

There is, I believe, a critical social role to be played by the broader community of civic interests in shaping the direction with which science should move more than in fretting over the incidental up and down motion of postulated tuths, tested truths, misunderstood truths, and lies that are put on the table for members of the scientific community to consider and sort through. A mistruth may have its season, but slaying mistruths is one pathway toward peer recognition within the science world. Science will sort out the working level of truth in its understandings.

Journalists, I feel, need to keep the focus on the question of "ARE WE ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS WITH OUR SCIENCE" more than the question of "ARE WE APPROACHING ANSWERS THROUGH SCIENCE IN THE RIGHT WAY." Science optimizes its quest for truth through its current process ... but science does not optimize its sense of direction in anyway that is formally linked back to the larger community of humanity.

Sep. 05 2011 11:49 AM
p.f.henshaw from way uptown

Brook and Jonah,
You seem to be seeing only the manageable tip of the problem of finding and correcting errors in science. The cases where right and wrong are simple to identify are not the problem. Science never had, and can't have, a way to "purify" its archives, other than the same way nature purifies her complex systems to remove useless branches, by experiment and evolution.

The deep problem of modern science is that "useless branches" of thinking become the basis of social structures and clung to relentlessly. You see it in how the different "silos" of reasoning form around different socially preferred ways to ask the same questions. One dominant paradigm of that kind is "science as computers" with the dazzling display of results conveying the image of powerful insight, but if tested against the subject addressed often represents no insight at all.

Theorists tend not to study nature at all, just data, their theoretical models, and their social status. The naturalists who actually study the complex naturally behaving subjects of such a study are unable to contribute to the process, at all... don't even get brought in for discussion, for the simple reason that nature does NOT behave at all like a computer (!!) and the questions a naturalist would ask upset the social status of someone representing their theory as nature! ;-) See the problem?

So the core of the problem is the social basis of the questions that each science and sub-science organizes itself around, not just our present self-defeating obsession with computers. As a battle between social cells science becomes as much as if some endless TEA Party argument. Your radio piece seemed to assume that scientists were engaged in scientific debate, but you can't do that when people all standing on different platforms.

Sep. 03 2011 08:05 AM

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