IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Governing knowledge in the scientific community: Exploring the role of retractions in biomedicine

  • Furman, Jeffrey L.
  • Jensen, Kyle
  • Murray, Fiona
Registered author(s):

    Although the validity of knowledge is critical to scientific progress, substantial concerns exist regarding the governance of knowledge production. While research errors are as relevant to the knowledge economy as defects are to 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. We analyze the universe of peer-reviewed scientific articles retracted from the biomedical literature between 1972–2006 and comparing with a matched control sample in order to identify the correlates, timing, and causal impact of scientific retractions. This effort provides 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 uncover false knowledge relatively swiftly and to mitigate the costs that false knowledge for future generations of producers.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Research Policy.

    Volume (Year): 41 (2012)
    Issue (Month): 2 ()
    Pages: 276-290

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:41:y:2012:i:2:p:276-290
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    as in new window
    1. Matthew Blackwell & Stefano Iacus & Gary King & Giuseppe Porro, 2010. "CEM: Coarsened Exact Matching in Stata," BOS10 Stata Conference 8, Stata Users Group.
    2. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 2007. "Replication in Economics," NBER Working Papers 13026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Paula E. Stephan, 1996. "The Economics of Science," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 34(3), pages 1199-1235, September.
    4. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 2007. "Viewpoint: Replication in economics," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 40(3), pages 715-733, August.
    5. List, John A, et al, 2001. "Academic Economists Behaving Badly? A Survey on Three Areas of Unethical Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 39(1), pages 162-70, January.
    6. Robert S. Huckman & Gary P. Pisano, 2006. "The Firm Specificity of Individual Performance: Evidence from Cardiac Surgery," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 52(4), pages 473-488, April.
    7. Raymond Fisman & Edward Miguel, 2007. "Corruption, Norms, and Legal Enforcement: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115(6), pages 1020-1048, December.
    8. Charles N. Bailey & James R. Hasselback & Julia N. Karcher, 2001. "Research Misconduct in Accounting Literature: A Survey of the Most Prolific Researchers' Actions and Beliefs," Abacus, Accounting Foundation, University of Sydney, vol. 37(1), pages 26-54.
    9. Nicola Lacetera & Lorenzo Zirulia, 2008. "The Economics of Scientific Misconduct," KITeS Working Papers 215, KITeS, Centre for Knowledge, Internationalization and Technology Studies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy, revised Apr 2008.
    10. Jeffrey L. Furman & Scott Stern, 2011. "Climbing atop the Shoulders of Giants: The Impact of Institutions on Cumulative Research," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(5), pages 1933-63, August.
    11. Edward L. Glaeser, 2006. "Researcher Incentives and Empirical Methods," NBER Technical Working Papers 0329, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Hamermesh, Daniel S., 1997. "Some thoughts on replications and reviews," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 107-109, June.
    13. Martin, Ben R., 2007. "Keeping plagiarism at bay--A salutary tale," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 905-911, September.
    14. Partha, Dasgupta & David, Paul A., 1994. "Toward a new economics of science," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 487-521, September.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:respol:v:41:y:2012:i:2:p:276-290. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Zhang, Lei)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.