Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Paper on narcissistic CEOs earns big correction

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home_coverIt may not be much of a surprise that narcissistic CEOs of pharmaceutical companies will make bold choices, such as adopting radically new technology. That idea remains true, despite a lengthy correction to a paper that supports it.

The paper, “CEO Narcissism, Audience Engagement, and Organizational Adoption of Technological Discontinuities,” in Administrative Science Quarterly, found support for the following hypothesis:

When audience engagement is high, narcissistic CEOs will anticipate widespread admiration for their bold actions and thus will invest especially aggressively in a discontinuous technology.

(For anyone not well versed in business-speak, “discontinuous technology” is a paradigm-shifting innovation that has a major impact on how a company operates.)

However, two years after the paper was published, the journal posted a lengthy correction that explains problems with the paper’s analyses, a variable, and a citation.

Here’s the full note. First, the issues with analyses:

In our analyses of hypotheses 1 and 2, which are reported in models 1–4 in table 2 (p. 275), and in the post-hoc analyses, which are summarized in models 2–4 and 6–8 in the Appendix (p. 289), we erred by simultaneously including an invariant firm-age variable and firm dummies, as this caused perfect multicollinearity between these two sets of variables. (Stata deals with this problem by dropping two dummy variables, shifting the reference points for the fixed effects coefficients.) Given that firm dummies themselves encompass effects from firm age, we have re-run all respective regressions with the redundant firm-age variable excluded (while still retaining the firm dummies). Results of our hypotheses tests remained identical—which is to be expected, as changing the reference points, by definition, exclusively influences the coefficients and significance levels of the dummy variables.

And the issue with the variable:

Relatedly, we erred in including the continuous audience engagement variable, which was measured annually, and year dummies in the same models, as they are perfectly collinear. Here again, to estimate the effect of the annual value for audience engagement, Stata excluded two year dummies instead of just one, both of which then served as reference points. The selection of the specific pair of reference years, however, does not affect the significance of the audience engagement moderator, given that the interaction term is not multicollinear with the year dummies, so our hypothesized results are not affected. Moreover, all results, including the hypothesized interaction effects, remain the same if we drop the linear audience engagement variable and one calendar year dummy (instead of dropping two dummies).

And the citation error:

Additionally, we erred when citing Heckman (1979) in the description of our control for endogeneity (p. 273). Heckman’s approach deals with sample selection bias, not the type of endogeneity we were intent on controlling for—namely the possibility “that narcissistic CEOs are attracted by or hired into specific situations and/or that narcissistic tendencies emerge under certain conditions” (p. 273).

We asked paper co-author Andreas König, a Professor of Technology, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Passau in Germany, how the problems with the paper came to light, and if a retraction was discussed as an option:

To respond to your questions, the issues were raised by a friendly fellow scholar. We then went back to our data and found that we had indeed made the mistakes we discuss in the correction note. Even though our particular errors, for systematic statistical reasons, did not affect the results of our hypotheses tests, and although our essential theoretical findings still stand, we recognize that we were fortunate in this regard: mistakes can easily generate wildly flawed results.

After finalizing our critical analysis, we wrote to ASQ to ask whether the journal was willing to publish the corrigendum.  There was no discussion of the paper being retracted and the decision to issue a correction was clear.

Perhaps we should emphasize that we benefitted a great deal from this process and that we are happy to answer any further questions, if you are interested.

Journal editor Jerry Davis echoed the same information:

A concerned reader notified me of the issues with a published table in this paper a few weeks ago, and also contacted the authors.  The authors came forward with a correction, which we promptly published.  We did not consider this sufficient for a full  retraction.  The concerned reader reports that he/she is satisfied with the corrigendum.  The journal is always looking for ways to enhance the quality of the review process, and if errors end up in print, we aim to correct them promptly.

According to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge, the paper has been cited eight times.

Hat Tip: Philipp

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