Governing Knowledge in the Scientific Community: Exploring the Role of Retractions in Biomedicine

42 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2012

See all articles by Jeffrey L. Furman

Jeffrey L. Furman

Boston University - Department of Strategy & Policy; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Kyle Jensen

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Fiona Murray

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center

Date Written: November 4, 2011

Abstract

Although the validity of knowledge is critical to scientific progress, substantial concerns exist regarding the governance of knowledge production. While as or more important to the knowledge economy as defects are in the manufacturing economy, mechanisms to identify and signal “defective” or false knowledge are poorly understood. In this paper, we investigate one such institution – the system of scientific retractions. By analyzing the universe of peer-reviewed scientific articles retracted from the biomedical literature between 1972-2006 and comparing with a matched control sample, we identify the correlates, timing, and causal impact of scientific retractions, thus providing insight into the workings of a distributed, peer-based system for the governance of validity in scientific knowledge. Our findings suggest that attention is a key predictor of retraction – retracted articles arise most frequently among highly-cited articles. The retraction system is expeditious in uncovering knowledge that is ever determined to be false (the mean time to retraction is less than two years) and democratic (retraction is not systematically affected by author prominence). Lastly, retraction causes an immediate, severe, and long-lived decline in future citations. Conditional on the obvious limitation that we cannot measure the absolute amount of false science in circulation, these results support the view that distributed governance systems can be designed to relatively swiftly to uncover false knowledge and to mitigate the costs that false knowledge for future generations of producers.

Keywords: retractions, knowledge production, scientific institutions, science policy, false science

JEL Classification: O30, O31

Suggested Citation

Furman, Jeffrey L. and Jensen, Kyle and Murray, Fiona E., Governing Knowledge in the Scientific Community: Exploring the Role of Retractions in Biomedicine (November 4, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2014481 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2014481

Jeffrey L. Furman (Contact Author)

Boston University - Department of Strategy & Policy ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Kyle Jensen

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Fiona E. Murray

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Entrepreneurship Center ( email )

United States

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