ArsTechnica’s Policy On Retracted Papers

ArsTechnica is a site that covers science and technology. There are a lotof sites that do this, obviously, but what separates ArsTechnica from the pack for me is typified by its handwringing over a problem that most other sites don’t even recognize or care about–if you’re writing about science, what do you do when years later the research you were writing about turns out to be wrong or even fradulent?

ArsTechnica senior science editor John Timmer writes about this problem highlighting two recently retracted papers that had been covered by the site. One paper was retracted when other researchers pointed out some errors that related to the software used to analyze the data, but the other paper was actually fraudulent–a thorough investigation found the authors had never conducted the experiments they had written about.

Timmer writes,

When Ars discovers that a paper we’ve covered has been retracted, we make an effort to go back and provide a notice of it in our article. But until recently, we didn’t have a formal policy regarding what that notice should look like, and we typically didn’t publish anything new to indicate a retraction had occurred.

Having given it some thought, that practice seems insufficient. A failure to prominently correct the record makes it easier for people to hang on to a mistaken impression about our state of understanding. Perhaps more importantly, not reporting a retraction leaves people unaware of a key aspect of science’s self-correcting nature and how retractions can sometimes actually advance our scientific understanding.

. . .

Those of you who follow the steady flow of scientific foibles immortalized at Retraction Watch will know that it’s often not possible to find out why some papers are retracted, much less draw larger lessons from the retraction. But we’ll do our best to continue to keep you notified when the research we cover doesn’t hold up to critical review by the rest of the field.

Of course, we have to know about the retraction for that to happen. If you see that we’ve missed a case, please make sure to get in touch and let us know. Either email me directly, or use our contact form.

On the one hand, that is very forward thinking of Timmer and ArsTechnica. Anyone who visits the original article about the fradulent paper on ArsTechnical now sees a bold indication at the top of the article:

EDITOR’S NOTE: The paper this report was based on contained fraudulent data and is in the process of being retracted.

This will hopefully help diminish the number of situations where people continue to share older articles about studies that were long since retracted or disproven.

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