Why aren’t there more retractions in business and economics journals?
In “Retraction, Dishonesty and Plagiarism: Analysis of a Crucial Issue for Academic Publishing, and the Inadequate Responses from Leading Journals in Economics and Management Disciplines,” which just went online in the Journal of Applied Economics and Business Research (JAEBR), Solmaz Filiz Karabag and Christian Berggren identified 31 retractions in business journals dating back to 2005, and just six in economics journals, dating back to 2009.
The numbers in business journals are even lower when you consider that ten of those retractions were quite recent, by frequent Retraction Watch subjects Ulrich Lichtenthaler, Dirk Smeesters, and Diederik Stapel.
The authors estimate their searches — through several databases such as ScienceDirect, JSTOR, and EBSCO — cover about 2,000 journals, not completely comprehensive, but certainly more than representative. And while it’s difficult to estimate the rate of retractions in these fields, the total number, over years, is about what we’re seeing in a single month in the rest of science.
The paper is a welcome addition to the retraction literature, which has been picking up steam in the life sciences but sparse in other disciplines. Andrew Gelman wrote about retractions in economics earlier this year, and could only recall two — one by Emily Oster and the other by Bruno Frey. But these two don’t show up in the JAEBR paper, because despite letters from Frey describing his duplication, and a whole new paper from Oster refuting her own results, they aren’t classified retractions by the journals that published the original work.
The RePEc plagiarism committee site has more retractions listed, but again these are typically not classified as retractions.
This — along with the fact that the authors found only a handful had policies on plagiarism or academic dishonesty in place at the journals they examined — could explain, at least somewhat, what Gelman called an “all too low” number of retractions. The fact that economists tend to post working papers, available for scrutiny for years before they’re officially published, may also contribute. It would be useful, for example, to compare the rates of retraction in economics to that in physics, whose researchers have similar practices.
For one of the authors of the paper, the issue struck close to home, as the paper’s introduction notes:
Being an editor of the Journal of Applied Economics and Business Research (JAEBR), one of this paper’s authors was promoting this journal during the gala dinner of R&D Management Conference in Grenoble, in May 2012. One senior researcher asked if we had had any problems with plagiarism, and a young researcher from Germany colleague commented “Come on, who will plagiarize?” The sad answer was that plagiarism is a real issue also for this very new journal. The journal sometimes receives a full paper already published by someone else, where the submitter simply changes the author(s) name; in other cases an author changes the title of his or her previously published paper and submits it. Another example is when a writer consciously copies portions of published articles and passes it on as his/her own work.
And that’s for a peer-reviewed journal that launched only last year and pays
special attention to emerging markets economics, but it is open to high-quality papers from all fields of applied economics, business and finance.