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Side Effects of Retractions

A retraction in a particular scientific area of study can have "spillover effects" on related fields, says a working paper from economists at MIT and Boston University.

The economists examined the effects of more than 1,100 scientific retractions on the citation frequencies of related papers, finding a 5 percent to 10 percent decline. "Our findings show that scientific misconduct and mistakes, as signaled to the scientific community through retractions, cause a relative decline in the vitality of neighboring intellectual fields," they write.

In addition, the Boston-area team classified the retractions by whether the research findings were called into question or not, and how that affects related fields. It adds that there's evidence that the "penalty" seen by related fields is greater when the retraction is due to fraud or misconduct.

This, notes Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch, underscores the need for journals to clearly state why articles are being retracted. "If notices make it clear there was no misconduct involved, the field may not take as big a hit," he writes. "This is the sort of nuance that is often lost in the discussion of whether highlighting misconduct promotes mistrust in science — a phenomenon we suggest is shooting the messenger."