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'The Bigger You Are, The Harder You Fall'

When researchers have an article retracted, they face a further penalty in terms of decreased citations, and that penalty is larger for higher-profile researchers, Retraction Watch writes.

However, the penalty is not as large when a paper has been pulled for an honest error rather than for research misconduct, RW's Alison McCook adds.

"[E]minent scientists are more harshly penalized than their less-distinguished peers in the wake of a retraction, but only in cases involving fraud or misconduct," MIT's Pierre Azoulay at MIT and his colleagues write in their National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. "When the retraction event had [its] source in 'honest mistakes,' we find no evidence of differential stigma between high- and low-status faculty members."

McCook notes that other studies have shown that scientists can be forgiving of mistakes, especially when the researchers themselves retract their flawed papers.

Benjamin Jones, who in 2013 reported that investigators retracting their own work face no citation penalty, tells McCook that, all together, this suggests "[e]minence is protective when there is uncertainty."

"The community appears to give the eminent author the benefit of the doubt, with blame accruing toward less established coauthors," he adds. "But when fraud is systematic, and there is little doubt across numerous papers who is to blame, the eminent can be severely penalized. In that case, the bigger you are, the harder you fall."